Why You Should Watch "Person of Interest"
Note: The following article contains mild spoilers about the television show "Person of Interest". The spoilers only reveal much of what is fleshed out in the pilot and the first few episodes as well as the general direction the show goes over it's run so far. If you are averse to spoilers, then suffice it to say that I think you should at least watch the first half of the first season to get a good feel for the show.
I watched the first 10 minutes of "Person of Interest"'s pilot on live TV back in 2011. I turned it off. The show started with a man in bed with his girlfriend. Then he was drinking in the subway. He beat up a few street kids. I figured it was an origin story of an all-to-predictable CBS cop show. But six months later, friends online were raving about the show. It wasn't until September 2012 when it was on DVD that I was able to give it a second look and found that the remaining 33 minutes of the pilot (and the ensuing seasons) proved me wrong. "Person of Interest" is now my favorite show on television.
Yes, the show does start as a twist on the usual cop show format. Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson, "Lost") has built a surveillance machine, and it gives him social security numbers. He investigates the person to find if they are a murderer or a victim. He needs Mr. Reese (Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ and The Thin Red Line), an ex-military, ex-CIA operative to work things out in the field. Their goal is to help people, if they can figure out what is going on in time. A classic TV mystery.
As an aside, one reason I enjoy "Person of Interest" is it's style. Cuts between scenes show the inner workings of the surveillance machine, all the mundane traffic and security cameras that make up it's data. Backstory is given via The Machine's audio and video clips as well. Most scenes are given a very cinematic but realistic look that makes it look great but also gives the feeling that this could be actually happening. The best part, though, is that the show is shot on the streets of New York City, which looks and feels much more grounded in reality than any Hollywood backlot. The location crews find great, real places on and off the streets and it's hard to tell where the real world end and the set dressing begins. And finally, there's plenty of action. Mr. Reese is not trying to kill the bad guys, but he knows how to stop them in their tracks with a well placed punch, bullet, grenade, shoulder cannon or being T-boned by a truck.
But while you watch the first season's mysteries, you find that something else is going on along with the "person of the week". What is the nature of The Machine that Mr. Finch built? Why did he build it? What is his background? Also, a hard-working cop (Taraji P. Henson, "Empire" and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) wants to apprehend these do-gooders that are rounding up the bad guys and leaving before she can talk to them. Another cop is working with Mr. Reese to figure out these mysteries even though he doesn't know where the "person of interest" comes from. And they start running into various forces within the city, from corrupt cops to mobsters and even some groups more technologically inclined. So while the show has a weekly format, there is great character development and a storyline that flows through the seasons.
The show also has a science fiction undertone as well. Not that it takes place in a whole different world, but it takes place in a world where the surveillance state is heightened. While today's government organizations likely are able to monitor lots of data, there's no way they can process all of it in real-time. The Machine can process all surveillance data and predict where bad actors may pop up. But also, The Machine starts showing signs of being somewhat of an artificial intelligence. "Person of Interest" explores the consequences of surveillance and an AI having some say in what happens in the future. What does an artificial intelligence think of the humans that created it? What would happen if it ran the world? These ideas are being explored more and more in the 3rd and 4th season. Becaiuse of this, less and less episodes are the mystery of the week but instead are a more serialized storyline.
"Person of Interest" has been my favorite show on all of TV since I started watching in 2012. It was not the mystery of the week that really drew me to the show, although that draws some, but it was the bigger story that built over the first season that got me hooked and made it my favorite show on television. These themes continued to expand throughout the next three seasons. I thought the latter half of the fourth season was a little weak, but I hope for a return to form in the fifth and potentially final season. But hey, if you watch the four seasons this fall and then watch on TV or CBS.com this winter, hopefully "Person of Interest" will continue to create great characters, riveting action and speculate on the effects of tomorrow's technology for a few more years. I sure hope it does.
"Person of Interest" seasons 1-3 are now available on Netflix streaming in the US. I also have them on Blu-Ray and DVD if you want to borrow them. I have season 4 on Blu-Ray as well, as well as season 4 comes to Netflix on September 22. Also, starting September 3rd, check out my favorite new network TV show of the 2014-2015 season on Netflix—it's called "Madam Secretary".