This review was corrected on Sept. 18, 2002.
In “John Doe,” one of the fall season’s strongest contenders for healthy ratings despite a mediocre Friday timeslot, a man who knows everything except his name becomes, what else, a crime fighter. Implausible from the start, this $6 million mental superman goes from being rescued by an Asian fisherman to winning thousands at the horse races to helping the cops of Seattle solve a kidnapping case. Yet it’s so stylishly executed, with Mimi Leder’s direction, a crisp script and magnetic lead by Dominic Purcell, that the “John Doe” indeed has a solid identity.
Aussie Purcell (“Mission: Impossible 2”) makes the show; his good looks and charisma, combined with the skills ascribed to the skein’s hero, makes him one of the most watchable men on television. Emerging naked from the waters of the Pacific Northwest in the pilot, Doe makes his way to an Asian fishing boat and from there to the police squad.
Along the way, he figures out that he’s pretty darn smart: He thrills a crowd by answering one question after another, makes a killing at the racetrack by calculating the logical order of numbers and then moves on the stock market. His lack of a name doesn’t seem to bother him.
Doe chooses to put his skills to good and latches onto a police investigation into a missing girl’s whereabouts. He gets on the cops’ side and shows them the way with Frank Hayes (John Marshall Jones) willing to trust Doe’s every instinct. Jamie Avery (Jayne Brook) is the one wary officer on the force, and she, more than her underlings, wants to get to the bottom of Doe’s scheme. Doe just wants to learn his name.
This is no “Memento” — Doe is an ID-specific amnesiac who latches onto the occasional face as possibly someone he knows. The idea will require some shifting and the show’s lead will need to develop a sense of self — 22 episodes of bewilderment could be a bit much — but it’s intriguing to see a man as sharp as “Monk” in a flashy detective show.
Leder gives the show an energetic zip — all compact with no broad brushstrokes. David Geddes’ photography captures the damp arena of the Pacific Northwest and cloud cover provides a perfect setting for man attempting to find the “light.”