For a show with a tricky, complicated premise, Person of Interest certainly moves right along at a zippy pace. Jim Caviezel plays John Reese, an ex-CIA agent who’s off the grid and down in the dumps, having lost the woman he loves under mysterious circumstances. Reese is shaken out of his despair — given a new purpose in life — by a man who calls himself Mr. Finch, and if anyone other than Lost’s Michael Emerson were playing him, the fussy little Finch would be a mere figure of fun. If there’s one thing Lost prepared Emerson to do well, however, it’s bringing gravity to scenes of potential foolishness.
In the pilot, written by Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige), there exists in the post-9/11 world a vast matrix of security cameras and technology. Mr. Finch reveals that he helped set up that all-seeing system (in Manhattan, at the very least) and is now using it to track potential crimes, although mere lofty observation cannot indicate whether the people caught on camera are the future criminals or victims. For that, Mr. Finch needs a man on the ground, and that man is Reese. “You need a purpose,” Finch tells Reese, who’s spent his most recent months not shaving and riding the subway all night. “More specifically, you need a job.”
Reese takes to the job with ruthless efficiency, using his CIA training to go after bad guys with martial-arts precision. When this former bum starts neutralizing criminals, it catches the attention of law enforcement, namely an NYPD detective named Carter, played by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s Taraji P. Henson with a credible mixture of curiosity and dubiousness.
The big question is how Person of Interest will proceed as a weekly series. It could be that the idea is to give Reese and Finch a different case to close each week, with guest stars and self-contained plots that render the show a variation on the old anthology series that are dear to executive producer J.J. Abrams’ heart, such as The Twilight Zone. The show also harks back strongly to an older TV hit: The Millionaire, a 1955-60 series in which a mysterious benefactor entered people’s lives via a Mr. Finch-like messenger. Thus Person of Interest has one foot in the past and one in the near future. Its vision of a city overrun by tech that can be used for humane purposes — with action scenes well played by the stoic Caviezel — has a multifaceted appeal for these times. The show can simultaneously unsettle, comfort, excite, and amuse its viewers — something for everyone, if you, like Mr. Finch, like to watch. B+
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