For Contemporary New York, A TV Program of Interest

Like the Machine that identifies the next victim or perpetrator, the CBS drama Person of Interest seems to be the result of a complex algorithm spewed out by a mischievous and clever TV series generator. Take a basic New York detective drama set in New York City, with its variety of gritty and glamorous street locales, add a handsome, martial arts-kicking ex-CIA agent and an intense, meticulous billionaire software engineer, and overlay the show with post-911 surveillance visualizations. Make the storylines complicated by often confusing the good guys with the bad guys, ratchet up the "gotcha" moments, and throw in funny one-liners.

To play the dynamic duo, this hypothetical TV series generator has matched the actor that played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ (Jim Caviezel) with the mysterious leader of "The Others" in Lost (Michael Emerson). But let's pull the curtain back right away to acknowledge that the creator of this intriguing new series is not a machine but the work of one Jonathan Nolan. With his brother Christopher, Nolan wrote the critically acclaimed film The Dark Knight (2008) and the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises (2012). While the tone and emphasis of Person of Interest differs from these Batman movies, we can identify at least one common thread.

"Witness" -- The Machine identifies a school teacher who witnessed a mob hit as their next POI and Reese (Jim Caviezel, left) and Finch (Michael Emerson, right) rush to save his life, on PERSON OF INTEREST, Thursday, Nov. 3 (9:00 - 10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: John P. Filo/CBS ©2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

While millions of New Yorkers walk the streets and go about our daily business, someone is up there watching over us, either on a computer screen or through a high-tech zoom-lens digital camera.

Most often, the everyday surveillance in New York is conducted via a myriad of surveillance cameras. These camera eyes watch our moves as we enter bank lobbies, stroll through department stores, sit on park benches (and not just in Zuccotti Park), check in at security checkpoints in thousands of lobbies, and catch our boats and trains. Our images are captured and archived. As individuals, we are also culpable in creating this vast visual jigsaw of information, snapping thousands upon thousands of images of the city every single day and then uploading them for all the world, and authorities, to see. We help matters along by tagging the identity of our friends in our public pictures.

The dramatic anxiety of Person of Interest centers on who controls an advanced technology that can adequately predict crimes before they happen. While the ex-military runaway Reese, for reasons he deems "complicated," steps in to quickly check out the person of interest, his boss Finch, who manifests afflictions while walking, prefers to engage in research via computer. Finch is especially worried about the Machine he has created, vigilant that the information does not fall into the hands of bad guys.

screengrab from opening title sequence of Person of Interest. Union Square. 

A pair of NYPD detectives also play roles in the drama. Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman) serves as their nervous informant inside the police force, while Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) wearily follows our two mysterious heroes as they spread their vigilante justice. Recent news reports (see TV Guide of January 12, 2012) indicate, at the behest of CBS executives, Carter will soon make the duo into a trio. More curious will be the question of whether or not the Machine, now incapable of moral judgment, develops a higher level of artificial intelligence. Imagine a HAL9000 in the New York of 2012.

"The Fix" -- Reese (Jim Caviezel, left) is captivated by and Finch (Michael Emerson, right) is wary of their newest POI - a beautiful, shrewd and remarkably resourceful woman, on PERSON OF INTEREST, Thursday, October 27 (9:00 - 10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Warner Bros. © 2011 Warner Bros. Television. All Rights Reserved.

Like many of the New York crime series before it, especially the Law & Order franchise, Person of Interest can also be viewed simply as a dramatic travelogue of the city. The opening title sequence visualizes the machine processing images of individuals as they pass through the Washington Square Arch, Union Square, and other locations, and there's a nice shot of Reese and Finch strolling the Brooklyn Promenade. Less glamorous locales have also served as backdrop and context, such as Brighton Beach, although rather demonized in this instance, in a clever episode titled "Witness." Some key sequences show the picturesque voyage of the new East River Ferry as it transports our heroes and perps pass the Brooklyn Bridge toward Pier 11 in Manhattan. For those unfamiliar with this locale, this is the East River pier that serves Wall Street.

One common question of Batman and Person of Interest may be this: are the citizens of Gotham City/New York City even capable of self-governance, or must they always depend on the interventions of a billionaire watching over them from on high?

Person of Interest airs on CBS, Thursdays 8 CT/9 ET. Several episodes are available online on the show's page.


Adam said...

I'm a fan of this show. I also find it intriguing that we recently learned that the NYPD plans on using drones for security purposes.

Gayle Alstrom said...

I loved that scene where the Jim Caviezel character is on the subway looking like a drunken bum, and is then attacked by a group of young thugs, and then he lays them all out unconscious on the subway. I think that was the first scene of the series. I like this show, especially because I'm kinda a computer geek myself.