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Monday, May 2, 2016

Two new dramas fail to meet expectations

Friday, September 30, 2011

The new network television season rolls on with the addition of several new dramas on Thursday night. I watched two of them -- "Person of Interest" (which airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBS) a dark crime procedural-with-a-twist, as well as ABC's update of "Charlie's Angels," which airs at 7 p.m. -- and I'm sorry to report that both are rather disappointing, no matter what the expectations might have been.

See, I mention expectations because both shows have their own pedigree and history, which clearly establishes the expected style and execution of the show. Whether that's fair to either show is irrelevant -- it's all about the brand.

"Person of Interest" comes from writer Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote such movies as "The Dark Knight" and "Inception," while the show promotes the fact that one of the executive producers is J.J. Abrams of "Lost" fame. The lead character, an ex-Special Forces operative named John Reese, is played by Jim Caviezel; early on in the first episode -- after neutralizing a quartet of thugs on a subway car -- he gains a wealthy benefactor, Finch, played by Michael Emerson.

If you recognize even one or two of the names I've mentioned -- and admire their work -- I'd be willing to bet that this is a show you'd want to check out, no questions asked. I freely admit that I had this one at the top of my "most anticipated" list: a top-notch feature film writer, paired with a producer who knows how to put together an hour-long TV series, plus the series cast a pair of interesting, unique actors to place front and center. Clearly, this was a program with the potential to be great immediately. After watching the pilot, however, I found myself feeling rather lukewarm about the whole enterprise.

My biggest quarrel with the show was how much exposition the script tried to pack into its running time, all while trying to establish the show's action credentials with the episode's main plot about a man possibly being framed by crooked cops. It led to a viewing experience that would stall just when it started to gain momentum, all the while being punctuated by wholly unnecessary transitional montages of security camera footage.

The saving grace of the show is Emerson, a personal favorite of mine. He gives a fine performance here -- earnest and mysterious and even a bit pitiful while remaining somewhat sinister; he's one of those actors that could read a cereal box aloud and imbue the words with life and texture. Caviezel, unfortunately, doesn't fare as well. It's not that I think he plays the part badly -- in fact, he has several action scenes where he's a lot of fun to watch -- but during his character's quieter moments, he nearly fades into the background scenery.

Is there potential here? Yes. The central conceit of "Person of Interest" involves Emerson and Caviezel both seeking some measure of redemption for past sins and I definitely want to see where their stories end up taking them. I just wish that the show itself was a smoother running machine. Two and a half stars (out of four).

"Person of Interest," however, is a purring model of efficiency compared with the new version of "Charlie's Angels," which is the latest attempt to bring the '70s franchise into the 21st century, complete with quick cuts and rougher plots. I wonder if there was a bet among the writers: how often in one single hour can a show's dialogue form in an actor's mouth, pass through the lips and land on the floor with an audible clunk? I hope the winning writer got something nice, because the audience sure didn't.

I also wonder if the people behind the show -- which includes executive producer Drew Barrymore -- thought it wouldn't matter if the dialogue was truly terrible since the people delivering it were ridiculously pretty.

Yes, this is an attractive cast, attractively shot. The show even takes the originally frumpy Bosley character and transforms him into a rakishly handsome dude. They dress (and occasionally not-so-dress) to the nines, drive expensive cars and call Miami's fashionable South Beach home.

But the show wants to have it both ways. It wants to be a fun, candy-colored fantasy about beautiful people in glossy scenes, but it also wants its action-packed crime plots to be taken with deadly seriousness.

Example. The Angels are tasked to rescue a teenage runaway from a sex trafficking ring. After they succeed in their mission, one of the Angels is killed by a car bomb. The grieving team meets up with a beautiful ex-car thief (who just happened to be a childhood friend of the dead woman), and they work together to track down the killer, who also happens to be the previously unidentified head of the trafficking ring AND the brutal mercenary whose clutches the ex-car thief and the now passed-on Angel had escaped years before when they were in an orphanage in El Salvador.

I know what you're thinking. Convoluted, right? Full of coincidences? All wrapped in a surprisingly dark package?

Now mix in dialogue passages that wouldn't have felt fresh during the show's original incarnation. Lines like "This is your most personal case ever," or "We're Angels, not saints," have the effervescence of a bowling ball. An early scene of the Angels, supposedly close friends, talking about going out to a nightclub together, is particularly painful since the conversation sounds like its taking place between people who not only just met, but also had one of those "apathy at first sight" experiences.

ABC's president referred to "Charlie's Angels" as "pure TV candy" at the May upfront presentation. As a fan of both TV and candy, I don't object to the two mixing. But this version of "Charlie's Angels" really longs to be an entree, and it's not even close to being that substantial. One and a half stars.

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Jeremy Blomstedt
The Entertainment Center