CBS cleverly recycles its old mainstays with modest twists, thus providing comforting familiarity wrapped in a shiny exterior. That’s largely the formula with “Person of Interest,” which recasts “The Equalizer” in a post-Sept. 11 package, informed by suspicions about intrusive information-gathering technologically. “Lost” alum Michael Emerson certainly elevates the material, but Jim Caviezel’s taciturn operative is so emotionally removed that viewers don’t have much, initially, with which they can connect. Replacing “CSI” as the network’s Thursday linchpin, the show is a shrewd if not terribly exciting bet on upping the network’s hip quotient without straying far from its procedural wheelhouse.
Caviezel’s former special-forces officer Reese — introduced roughing up punks on the subway — is retired and extremely dangerous, as well as bearded and homeless, when recruited by Finch (Emerson), a billionaire benefactor determined to turn him loose on a pet project.
“You need a purpose,” Finch tells him, suggesting said sense of direction lies in helping people, offering each of them potential redemption.
How does Finch’s program work? As devised by writer Jonathan Nolan, the crux is an elaborate surveillance system the tech whiz devised in the wake of Sept. 11 that the government has been using in its anti-terror efforts. But he still retains access to the data, or at least part of it — providing him Social Security numbers for people who are either going to do something bad or have something terrible happen to them.
Given the vagueness of that explanation, it’s probably best not to dwell too much on the details, since it’s all mostly a clever excuse to transform Reese into a kind of avenging guardian angel.
Yet the approach in the pilot, anyway, proves a bit chilly — offering virtually no interaction between the hero and his mark, though Nolan’s script does provide the opportunity to demonstrate what a serious badass he can be on several occasions. Producer J.J. Abrams might call his company Bad Robot, but that’s an awkward description for your series lead.
The action is crisp, and Emerson is one of the most watchable performers on television. In addition, Taraji P. Henson is onboard as a detective, though what she’ll bring to the party remains as murky as the technology undergirding Finch’s creation.
Indeed, it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the high-tech plot device is simply a high-fallutin’ means of creating a well-financed vigilante — to borrow a writing credit Nolan shared with his brother Christopher: Batman, minus the cape and cowl — and turn him loose on evildoers with procedural precision.
By that measure, “Person of Interest’s” premise triggers some interest but could be hard-pressed to sustain it on a very competitive night — unless Finch’s magic machine can manipulate Nielsen’s to spit out favorable numbers.