There are few names that peak my interest whenever a new "blockbuster" is released, two exceptional creative forces who have consistently been able to make smart, well written, action packed and massively popular entertainment. At the absolute top of this list are: J.J. Abrams and The Nolan Brothers, and Person Of Interest, starring Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson and Taraji P. Henson, come from two thirds of that trio, with Abrams executive producing and Jonathan Nolan the show's creator. With that kind of talent, you know you're in for something special.
The pilot episode is filled with mysterious, damaged character, with our hero John Reese (Caviezel) at the centre of things. An ex-special forces agent, though what special forces we're not quite sure of, he is now drunk and homeless, though still possessing the fighting reflexes of a very, very dangerous man, as a group of Brooklyn woise-goys find out to their detriment in the opening scene, the moral of which is be careful which tramp you try to steal liquor off.
However, the scuffle lands Reese in jail, where he is subsequently linked to a number of violent crimes going back years. It also brings him to the attention of Harold Finch (Emerson), a very rich, similarly mysterious man who comes with a job offer, one that will potentially save many lives.
For you see, this is post 9/11 New York, an environment where trust and security are in short supply. Surveillance is everywhere, watching, listening, analysing, decoding and, essentially, spying, and it's all down to Harold. The quiet mannered boffin built a hugely sophisticated surveillance system after the towers collapsed designed to root out terrorist activity before an attack occurs. The downside of the system is that the machine also roots out smaller, "irrelevant" crimes, New York City's rapes and murders which Harold hasn't been charged with preventing, but which are giving him sleepless nights. It's these crimes that he wants Reece to stop, using whatever means necessary. Think Minority Report, without the science-fiction aspect, with more of an attempt to ground itself in reality.
The pilot episode is, as is always the case with American shows desperate to be picked up, more than a little rushed. However, it establishes the tone of the characters and the relationships between them well without giving too much away...hardly anything away, in fact. Caviezel is an engaging lead, channeling Christian Bale's Batman as the suave, damaged anti-hero, while Emerson as Harold plays off him well. It's a double act that will certainly grow throughout the series as more layers are unraveled.
Person Of Interest grabs you right from the off. It goes straight for the jugular in an attempt to pull you in and doesn't let you go without a fight. As soon as one question is answered, another is asked, with the writing balancing pulpy dialogue and Hollywood drama whilst always maintaining a meticulous focus on realism and what it is like living in a city where your every move is being watched. Because of this it actually feels like a genuinely new representation of New York on TV. Gone is the glamour, style and sterility of Friends and Sex And The City, and nor is this a focus on neon lights, street grifters and dark alleys. If anything the show treats New York in the same way Michael Mann treated L.A in Heat, as a maze-like space teeming with nooks and crannies to hide in and dead ends to get caught down. I can't remember seeing The Empire State Building once. This is New York, but post 9/11 the implication is that it's simply not the same place.
The show is back on Channel 5 this weekend and if it does as well over here as it did in the States, then you best clear your Sunday nights for the next couple of months.