“Person of Interest” is an unsung hero — the CBS sci-fi drama reigns among shows like “Friday Night Lights” and “Deadwood” as critically acclaimed, but criminally underseen television treasures. Thankfully, this fall it’s coming to Netflix and to WGN America as part of the “Prime Crime” lineup at the end of the month, which means that you
should all really do yourselves a favor and enter Jonathan Nolan’s rich, comic book-like world of heroes, villains and a highly trained, highly adorable Belgian
Malinois named Bear.
In the likely case that you’re not familiar with the show,
“Person of Interest” premiered in 2011, starring Michael Emerson as reclusive
billionaire genius Harold Finch, Jim Caviezel as burned CIA operative John
Reese and an ensemble cast of supporting characters who work together to try
and prevent crimes before they happen. They’re able to do so with the guidance
of Finch’s invention, “The Machine,” an artificial intelligence with
unfettered access to all means of surveillance in the country (but mostly wherever the L train can take them).
Nolan essentially pitched “Person of Interest” to CBS as a superhero series
without the capes and spandex and, after four years, it has remained just that — which makes sense, given the first reason why the show deserves a top spot on your binge list.
1) Jonathan Nolan and
With household names heading a show on America’s most
popular television network, you might think there would be more interest (ha)
in “Person of Interest.”
The producers behind commercial and critical successes like
“Inception,” the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Fringe” team up
in the best ways possible to create a series that is part crime-solving
procedural, part serialized dystopian sci-fi, and all awesome. Abrams takes
more of a backseat in all of this to give Nolan and executive producer Greg
Plageman more room to shine, and shine they do.
Nolan and his team have done an excellent job in the taking
the noir-like qualities of “Memento” and “The Dark Knight”
and instilling them into “Person of Interest” to make a show that
keeps you anxious and interested, but isn’t quite so dark or cynical. Rather, the
show provides a rare sense of optimism in our silent heroes, working in secret
to try and save people before they’re ever hurt — even if they sometimes don’t
deserve the help.
2) Exceptional characterization delivered by an exceptional, diverse cast
“Person of Interest” is a bit of a slow burn, but Nolan and Plageman take excellent care in using this to their advantage, crafting consistently written, beautifully portrayed characters whose emotional and ethical capacities develop so very well over the years. Their relationships with each other do too, and if you aren’t a sucker for watching the lone wolf outsiders finding a family in each other, you’re lying.
You also get to watch Taraji P. Henson dominate in her pre-Cookie role as noble idealist detective Jocelyn Carter, Amy Acker flirt with everything that breathes as the brilliant, but morally bankrupt hacker Root and Sarah Shahi snark Finch and Reese up and down the eastern seaboard as the ex-doctor, ex-marine, ex-government assassin Sameen Shaw. I love dynamic, multifaceted ladies all on their own, but together they’re much, much better and easily help set “Person of Interest” apart from the rest.
Its lowest rated episode ranks at a still impressive 8.2, and
its highest — Season 4’s “If-Then-Else” — hails second on the site’s
list of top rated episodes of all time, just behind “Breaking Bad’s”
Again, “Person of Interest” burns quite slowly,
but it’s a consistently high-quality trip and when the episodes kick it up a
notch or two, they’re absolutely fantastic. Naturally, much of this quality can be attributed to the
first two reasons.
4) Careful, thought-provoking television
The entire, seemingly fictitious
premise of “Person of Interest” surrounds a top-secret system of nationwide
surveillance that turned out to be pretty real with the 2013 PRISM revelations.
Nolan would go on to say that the only thing science fiction about the show would be the
uproar — or lack thereof — of the system’s discovery.
New Yorker also ran a piece last year on the show’s Season 1 episode
“No Good Deed,” and its uncanny resemblance to the Edward Snowden
leaks, which would only add to the idea that these writers are pretty damn
When it isn’t foreshadowing
real life events, “Person of Interest” shines in keeping you on your
toes with the uncertainty over whether an episode’s person of interest or,
“number,” is the victim or perpetrator of the week. Some of the
show’s best twists build off of this.
5) But also, it’s fun to watch
“Person of Interest”
starts off as your standard case-of-the-week procedural and, over four
seasons, steadily escalates into a subversive, quasi-dystopian thriller rooted
in the war between opposing AI gods. (Really.)
But even before we get there,
we’re treated to a weekly dose of good old fashioned action and espionage. Caviezel
delivers most of the punches as the soft spoken, but totally badass Reese, and even
spent time with Special Forces operatives to make it all look as genuine as
However, when Caviezel talked to producers about getting a little too
old for kicking ass on a weekly basis — as even the fittest human beings are
bound to get — the natural solution would be to introduce his tiny powerhouse counterpart
Sameen Shaw to share the burden of shooting kneecaps and sassing Finch. She’s an excellent shot and turns into half of the dynamic
duo that Root dubs the “mayhem twins,” and the addition remains one
of the best decisions “Person of Interest” has made.
6) Root and Shaw
You wouldn’t expect a reformed killer for hire to get along
so well with a self-diagnosed sociopath, but the vitriolic best bud dynamic
between these two develops as well and as carefully as any of the other
relationships on the show, and it’s amazing. They’re a 21st century
Lucy and Ethel who like shooting people and often threaten to shoot each other,
which one could consider intimidating if Root wasn’t so flirty about it.
The two don’t appear together
until a brief, but absolutely electric first meeting in Season 2 that pretty much everyone considered
full of potential. Plageman recently described his first impression of their
first impressions: “I think the
thing that struck me the most in terms of the two of them the first time they
were on camera, the moment they were on the screen and she pulls out the iron,
and I went ‘Something that is supposed to be sadistic has somehow become
seductive. There’s something here that we’re missing on the show.’ And we just
went with it.”
Good thing they did, because
it’s been my favorite part of “Person of Interest” by far.
Much of this goes to fantastic
performances by Acker and Shahi, and lines like “I couldn’t bear it if
anyone hurt you. I mean, besides me.”
7) The cast and crew love the fans as much as they love the show, and like
to prove it.
It’s fantastic how cool the producers think POI fans are — something they often like to demonstrate via Twitter — and Nolan and Plageman showed it once more when they presented the below fan-inspired highlights reel at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con. You can view the video below, but don’t watch the Season 5
teaser that starts after the 2:40 mark if you want to remain spoiler free. Or
do — it gives me goosebumps every time.
“Person of Interest” returns to CBS midseason next year. Seasons 1-3 hit Netflix September 1, followed by Season 4 on September 22. Syndication on WGN America starts September 1. (You’re welcome.)