Tuesday, November 4, 2014

TV Review: Person of Interest Season 4

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars (after six episodes)

Bottom Line: This continues to be a good show that flirts with being great but falls short of that mark largely because it is on the broadcast networks

For those unfamiliar with Person of Interest the basic premise is that Harold Finch (played by Lost's Michael Emerson) has created a supercomputer for the government designed to track terrorist activity, but it can also predict deadly crimes and he and his “associates” (John Reese played by Jim Caviezel and Sameen Shaw played by Sarah Shahi) try to prevent those because the government does not care about them.  The series has played out in a procedural format where each week this group gets a new “number” and they shadow that person to prevent the crime.  But there is also a background story arc about a secret cabal trying to take control of the machine, and this group eventually gets a machine of its own (Samaritan) that supplants Harold’s original computer.  At the end of the third season, the group had to go rogue and it looked like the show might be headed on a course change that would have it focus on more of its science fiction AI elements and less on the procedural routine.  But then this is network television, and they abhor change (thus the reason the Nielsens still lord over their renewal/cancellation decisions).  We still have the number-of-the-week stories, but the group tracks these down while maintaining their new cover identities (bringing it even closer to the superhero series format it has been toying with since it began).  We still get the occasional arc story episode that focuses on the AI concepts at the show’s core, but CBS has apparently set an allotment that only allows one of those per three or four procedural episodes.  And the number-of-the-week stories sometimes flirt with the moral ambiguities of the show’s pre-crime premise, but they almost always end up pulling their punches and resorting to a pat television wrap-up because network television prefers not to challenge its audience too much (meanwhile cable shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad continue to push the boundaries and top the audiences of many of the network shows).  I have been following Person of Interest since it started and have enjoyed it well enough, so I’m in for the long haul as long as it doesn’t jump the shark on me.  But I find myself regularly wishing they would take more chances with the procedural episodes and also delve more into the AI concepts.  But CBS is convinced that the CSI/NCIS format is the one its audience wants and won’t allow it dramas to veer to far beyond that (we saw a similar pattern with last year’s short-lived Intelligence which also pulled its punches and fell short of being great).  Person of Interest is still a decent show with good characters that we have become invested in.  But more often than not I feel rather unsatisfied by the episodes and wish this show (and the broadcast nets in general) would take the hint that audiences want more challenging programming and that watered down content is likely a significant factor in the ratings attrition those channels are experiencing.

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