Sep 22, 2011

Fall Spy TV Preview: Person of Interest Debuts Tonight

The fall spy TV season kicks off tonight with the J.J. Abrams/ Jonah Nolan collaboration Person of Interest at 9/8c on CBS. Jim Caviezel stars as an ex-CIA agent recruited by Lost’s Michael Emerson to use his skills for a very private intelligence operation. Expanding a theme from Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Emerson spies on the entire city of New York with 24/7 access to footage from every security camera in the city. In a Minority Report-like SF spin, he has a computer that analyzes all that footage and gives him the name of someone likely to be involved in a violent crime. Conveniently (for the narrative, if not the do-gooders), the computer apparently doesn’t have the capability to predict how the individual in question will be involved—whether the name represents a victim or a perp or a witness or what. It’s then up to Caviezel to use his CIA skills (and a large arsenal) to stop the crime. Caviezel proved a less-than-compelling lead (to put it nicely) in AMC’s misguided remake of The Prisoner, but I’m willing to give him another chance. The grey in his hair suits him in the previews, and it will be to his benefit not to have to stack up against Patrick McGoohan. He might have the equally unenviable task of measuring up to another Sixties spy star, however, since this former-spook-turned-NYC vigilante setup has undeniable shades of the Edward Woodward action drama The Equalizer… Emerson I’m a fan of, as I am of Abrams and Nolan, so I’m looking forward to giving this series a chance.

For all the spy show development we followed over the past year, relatively few of the shows mooted actually ended up on the fall TV schedule. The highest profile title was definitely Fox’s Exit Strategy, which starred Ethan Hawke as the Jim Phelps-like (he wishes) leader of an elite IMF-like team of spies called in by the CIA when a mission goes badly. Feature director Antoine Fuqua (who worked with Hawke in Training Day) helmed the pilot, and the red-hot team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci produced, which I would have thought would make the show a lock for a pick-up. That was before I read the script for the pilot, which was unfortunately awful. Apparently Kurtzman and Orci did their own re-write after the draft I read, but I guess it wasn’t enough for Fox. Maybe it got better, though. At some point I’ll probably review the unaired pilot.

The spy series that did make it (representing a very small fraction of all those that were bought, developed or even shot) include Person of Interest, Homeland (24 producer Howard Gordon’s new CIA drama starring Claire Danes, which premieres on Showtime October 2 at 10) and Pan-Am. The latter debuts Sunday night at 10/9c on ABC. I didn’t even realize that the Sixties-set stewardess drama had an espionage angle (involving some of the sexy stews being recruited by the CIA) until the reviews started mentioning it… usually in conjunction with a phrase like “awkwardly shoehorned.” Nevertheless, that got me excited to tune in!

The best spy pilot script that I read was for ABC’s Missing, a sort of female version of Taken starring Ashley Judd as a former CIA agent who heads to Europe to tear down the Eiffel Tower if she has to in order to save her kidnapped son. (See what they did there, with the gender switching?) Despite the derivative plot, the pilot script was fast-paced and exciting and delivered pretty much everything I want out of a weekly spy show, including genuine foreign locations. Missing was shot on location in various European cities including Prague, Istanbul (where Taken 2 is set) and Dubrovnik. Adriano Giannini (son of Mathis actor Giancarlo), GoldenEye villain Sean Bean and Colombiana’s Cliff Curtis co-star. While a world premiere for Missing’s pilot was recently set for the industry confab MIPCOM in October, ABC has yet to set a date for broadcast. So I’m guessing we won’t get to see it until mid-season.

In the meantime, development has already begun for next year’s potential shows, and there might be even more spy pilots in the works than there were for the last season. Just scan through the last few days’ news items, and stay tuned for more later today.

Person of Interest premieres tonight, Thursday, September 22 at 9pm Eastern
Pan-Am premieres Sunday, September 25, at 10pm Eastern
Homeland premieres Sunday, October 2, at 10pm Eastern (though the pilot is already available to watch for free now on Showtime's website and On Demand from certain cable providers)

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