“Wisdom of the Crowd” is about wealthy Silicon Valley businessman Jeffrey Tanner (Jeremy Piven)’s decision to give up his career in order to devote himself to an online, networked crime investigation platform called Sophe. In practice, Sophe is essentially Reddit — a community of amateur sleuths eager to get to the bottom of open mysteries, and sharing evidence with each other via their phones — but “Wisdom of the Crowd” makes Sophe’s headquarters a glossy, sophisticated hivemind. Piven throws himself into the role with an abandon that is really not at all necessary: He crosses his arms and paces, he shouts, he breaks the rules.
Broadcast procedurals that put way too much faith in technology are nothing new; last year’s “Bull,” also on CBS, features Michael Weatherly solving crimes in a remarkably similar way. But even with that in mind, it’s breathtaking how wholeheartedly enthusiastic “Wisdom of the Crowd” is about the rather controversial notion of total social surveillance. “Bull” presents its protagonist as a man who cannot wholly be relied on, and his tactics are used behind-the-scenes to enhance his courtroom questioning. In “Wisdom of the Crowd,” mob justice is just plain justice. At the end of the pilot, several Sophe users at a train station identify a passenger as the current suspect. They surround him with their phones up, relentlessly filming him, until police come to arrest him; it’s like the end of “Black Mirror’s” episode “White Bear,” except distressingly unironic. There is no discussion whatsoever about what his rights might be in that situation; the Sophe users don’t even know if he’s guilty or just a person of interest. And yet their cornering of their prey is served to the audience as a triumph, for Sophe and Jeffrey, and the public at large.
And beyond the curiously Big-Brother-friendly themes, “Wisdom of the Crowd” is just a rehash of drama tropes. In grim procedural tradition, Jeffrey’s motivation is driven by a personal tragedy; his daughter’s murderer was never found, and he is partly using Sophe to try to track down that still at-large killer. There’s also a subplot with his ex-wife, Alex (Monica Potter), and the long-suffering sighs of actual detective Tommy Cavanaugh (Richard T. Jones), the only sympathetic character in the pilot.
If “Wisdom of the Crowd” finds a way back towards investigating the complexity of solving crimes through social media, it could become a sturdy enough procedural; Piven’s Jeffrey is a character practically itching to be a little evil. But based on the pilot, the show is pursuing a less nuanced approach.