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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Audition Review: Person of Interest – “Pilot” & Prime Suspect – “Pilot”

If you follow along with us at the blog, you know I enjoy a good procedural. But good procedurals are hard to do, with their own challenges (compared to the more serialized drama). You need interesting characters (as I’ve stated before here) but you also need compelling cases-of-the-week. If you don’t have the latter, the former get a little a less interesting (unless they’re really good actors and it’s one of those cases where it’s just a pleasure to watch them).

Annoyingly, Person of Interest and Prime Suspect both stumble in their pilots in compelling cases and are dragged down by uninteresting characters (though there are interesting characters in them, thank goodness). Likewise, both shows feel oddly dated. Person of Interest might’ve felt more relevant and engaging had it aired a season or two after the World Trade Center’s collapse while Prime Suspect is just a weird case of something that would’ve been big in the late 1980s or ’90s, right along NYPD Blue, but now seems a little unnecessary.

Person of Interest‘s problems are, sadly, numerous. Aside from the fact that the national surveillance aspect feels a little out of touch with current concerns (America, as a whole, isn’t so much concerned with the whole rights versus safety debate now), the pilot is a bit of a drag. While it’s slick and good-looking (it feels very CBS) and has a nice big budget to play with, I was just bored the entire time, and I can’t see that going away too quickly.

Part of this just rests with my general disinterest in Jim Caviezel, who I’ve never found particularly engaging or capable as an actor, and he lives up to that general expectation here. While being in a daze is to be expected for John who has been homeless and drinking for years upon years, Caviezel seems to think this also means veering between monotone or sounding like a psychopath in a C-list Hollywood movie (and did anyone else feel like lots of his dialog felt dubbed in post? I know it’s a common enough practice sometimes, but I kept thinking it while listening to him).

Along those lines, I really hope this isn’t the show every week. John following people around for 42 minutes does not a show make. Some reason for him going forward with this mission is going to be needed, some larger arc, some number that they need to help in the long term. Otherwise the show needs to adjust itself a bit, maybe give the audience a bit more information than John and Finch have to create some dramatic tension.

At least Michael Emerson can do no wrong. Admittedly, this man can read from the phone book and be awesome. He manages to keep Finch interesting, providing levels of regret and sadness with Emerson’s trademark light comedic timing. I likewise dig the limp, which doesn’t feel silly or unnecessary, and is done consistently.

But even he’s not enough to salvage this dull and bland pilot. I’ll probably give the show a few more spins (as I always do, unless I just find something particularly offensive or truly horrible) before  make a final decision.

In same position, oddly, is Prime Suspect. It, too, is kind of dull and would be better serves in an earlier time period. I’m of two minds about the rampant sexism and chauvinism in the pilot (which I knew about going in because NBC’s preview on their Web site hit that aspect hard). My initial reaction is that we’ve moved beyond this sort of narrative. Brenda Lee Johnson and Olivia Benson would not put up with this, and they certainly wouldn’t tolerate a lieutenant that allows it to run rampant.

And in that sense, Prime Suspect feels old for TV. I mean, what did Cagney & Lacey achieve if not to get TV cop shows beyond this point? But is it “dated” in reality? I can’t answer the question as to whether such sexism continues to plague police forces through the country, let alone in New York City (though I would not be at all surprised if it did). And, from that perspective, Prime Suspect is in a sense correcting the fictional worlds in which women in the police forces don’t deal with it (it doesn’t help me that there isn’t a single female member of the police force shown except Jane). (Alyssa Rosenberg over at Think Progress has a very good post on an idea related this in regards to idealized police forces.

Because it has a lot of lifting to do, the case is just kind of sits there in the episode, not being particularly engaging and exists purely for to try and demonstrate how good she is at her job (her male co-workers come off as lazy bums who drink before noon), which by and large works (particularly her knowledge of which hookers hang out where), so I suppose, in that case, the case achieves its goal.

Maria Bello is, however, very good on it, and that buys the show considerable goodwill from me. There’s a real verve to the character, and Bello is clearly invested in creating a well-rounded performance. And the writing helps her, as it gives her all the juicy stuff to do. And while her way of helping her divorced boyfriend see her kid, with a little bit of legal blackmail to the shrew ex-wife and her new hubby, felt a little too pat, Bello doesn’t let it slip into cliche in the delivery which hits the nice notes of aggressive and sweet, like she’s doing them the favor.

Bello helps me justify returning the show a few more times, and while I’m not sure where I fall on the show stepping back from the sexism, I will be happier if some other women show up for Bello to interact with. (Hopefully they manage to past the Bechdel test if that happens.) I just hope the cases improve, and that the hat (which I really hated in the promotional push) stays. Because the hat actually worked more than most of the male characters.

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