Person Of Interest and the Paranoia of the Digital Age
December 3, 2011 - 12:00 am
Back when the networks began promoting their new fall series, one of the upcoming shows that intrigued me was Person Of Interest, which stars Lost’s Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel, best known for The Passion Of The Christ. And why wouldn’t it look interesting? Who wouldn’t want to see Benjamin Linus and Jesus teaming up to prevent crimes?
Person Of Interest, which airs on Thursday nights on CBS, has become one of a handful of new series that are appointment television for me. It’s remarkably different from most of today’s procedural shows — “He’s a psychic who solves crimes!” “They’re police partners who had a one night stand!” “Ghosts tell her who killed them and how to find the evidence!” — that its grittiness is downright refreshing.
The program’s premise is clever: eccentric software genius Harold Finch (Emerson) develops a system for the government that detects acts of terrorism before they occur, only to discover that it also spits out information related to other violent crimes. Finch teams up with former CIA operative John Reese (Caviezel) to put an end to these crimes before they take place. Always on their tails is NYPD Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson), who attempts to get to the bottom of these acts of what could be called pre-vigilante justice.
In the capable hands of creator/executive producer Jonathan Nolan (brother and writing partner of mind-blowing filmmaker Christopher Nolan) and executive producer J. J. Abrams (mastermind behind Lost), Person Of Interest has a uniquely gritty feel. The show’s New York City is hazily lit and teeming with potential victims and perpetrators. The writers do an excellent job peeling back layers of the characters’ back stories. It’s a thoughtfully written program, with a genuine poignance to each episode. Emerson plays the creepy mastermind like no one else can, Caviezel is pitch-perfect at the strong, silent type, and Henson portrays Detective Carter with ease and authority.
After only a few episodes, Person Of Interest can rightly be called fascinating and innovative television. As a matter of fact, we’ve already seen here at PJ Lifestyle how the show has upended some of the typical portrayals of men and women when it comes to crime. It is also a truly modern phenomenon, playing on a type of paranoia that has been heightened over the last decade: the fear of a government looking over its citizens with prying eyes.
Concern over a spying, overreaching government is nothing new: George Orwell infamously wrote of Big Brother watching us in his masterpiece 1984. And who can forget Rockwell’s hit song from 1984 where he proclaimed, “I always feel like somebody’s watching me”? In our post-9/11, post-Patriot Act world, the idea of the government digging into our private lives seems more real than ever before, and Person Of Interest is largely built around that fear. In fact, the show’s tagline — “Ever feel like you’re being watched?” — plays directly to that paranoia.