Possibly the last of the "gimmick" detective stories for the time being, Person of Interest falls in the tradition of crime shows failed (Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Raines) and successful (Monk, Psych) in which there is an odd detective paired with someone who is grounded in some form of reality. In this case it is Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson) and Mr. Reese (Jim Caviezel). A variation on Rex Stout's inert Nero Wolfe and and his proxy man-of-action Archie Goodwin, Mr. Finch is the brain and Mr. Reese the brawn. We learn that Mr. Finch once designed an elaborate computer set up that tracks potential terrorists. Though this "minority report" approach to crime passes without much comment, Mr. Finch realizes that his program can also anticipate ordinary crimes-to-be. Since the government that hired him isn't so much interested in ordinary street crime, Mr. Finch has enlisted the aid of Mr. Reese to hit the pavement and spy on these ordinary citizens and stop crime. The only hitch is that Mr. Finch isn't sure if the names spat out by the computer designate the victim or the perpetrator of a crime.
After three episodes, the subjects of their scrutiny have proven to be a bad guy, a good guy, and someone in between. The series has also established that there are murky moments from the main duo's pasts that will receive slow revelation, if the series lasts the next seven weeks. Mr. Reese has a back story of guilt and repression; Mr. Finch has certain disabilities that haven't been explained, impediments absent when he is shown in flashback.
Person of Interest is the brain child of Jonathan Nolan, who wrote his brother Christopher's film Memento. Both share an interest in surveillance. Christopher's first film was the little-seen feature Following, about a writer who follows random people on the street only to be ensnared in a criminal enterprise, but it might as well have been written by Jonathan, who contributed to some of his brother's other films, most of them concerned with spying and the dominance of one person over another. But unlike The Dark Knight Returns, this TV series thus far hasn't raised any ethical issues about the nature of surveillance, especially as conducted by a private citizen in odd circumstances.
Jim Caviezel is surprisingly effective as a Equalizer type guy, and Michael Emerson brings some of his mysterious Ben Linus-Lost mojo to this equally peculiar role. As per action figures on the small screen Mr. Caviezel never smiles and in fact never really moves his face much at all. It is a death mask, with the death erupting in his foes. For Mr. Finch, Mr. Emerson's unusual line delivery and sense of anguished concern as a shield against ungainly emotion comports well with the character.
What Person of Interest has going for it most so far is beautiful urban photography byTeodoro Maniaci. Otherwise it hasn't worked out some of its kinks yet and is only beginning to explore the backgrounds of its two central characters. Aside from that, the procedural crime stories that form the bulk of each episode are conventional tales with some small twists that keep the viewer off guard. What's most interesting is how the show is of a piece with the Nolans' work on the big screen.
Note as of Tuesday, 16 January, 2012: Person improved greatly with time, broke out of a repetitive funk by starting to lighten up on Reese's bad cop ally and started to incorporate a police detective dogging their trail. Episodes before the late holiday break were highly effective and got back into action last week with sure footed effects.