From an outsider’s perspective, CBS’ Person of Interest looks more like a procedural drama than a science fiction masterpiece. I understand this perspective, considering I once held to it. When it first premiered I was on my way as a transfer student to a University and didn’t have time to watch it. I figured I could live without another procedural show in my life.
Oh, how I was wrong.
At the basic level this show is about a team of people who save the lives of ordinary citizens in New York City. Big deal, right? This concept has been done to death in a variety of shows and it is nothing new. Every week there is a new ‘number’ that a computer gives the team and every week the cast works to save this number. Simple.
Except it isn’t.
You see, Jonah Nolan has played the writing almost too well in order to appeal to audiences that would otherwise be uninterested in watching a science fiction series. He began the series with a somewhat realistic take on what could be happening in New York City. Yet as the show developed, viewers began to realize that not everything was as it seemed. While the writers keep the procedural aspect of the show as the main focus, they weave a more complex story just beneath it.
The Machine that gives the team their weekly number is more than just a computer.
There are villains who are not only just a threat to the number of the week, but to the Machine and society as a whole.
There are secret government agencies in play.
And ultimately one of the main characters, Harold Finch, is never quite what he seems.
Underneath all of the layers of a normal, run of the mill procedural, the viewer begins to realize that the New York City (and by extension the world) portrayed on this show is not quite the world they are living in. Or is it? That’s where Nolan and the rest of the creative team have landed. Week after week they produce a show that, on one hand, makes us say “no, that couldn’t be happening,” but on the other hand brings us pause.
Never mind the fact an episode, regarding an NSA analyst-turned-whistleblower who realized the government was illegally spying on citizens, aired a year before the Edward Snowden situation. In a beautifully painful moment, the fiction Nolan and his team were writing became reality, and that is why Person of Interest is more than a procedural. It is more than just the number of the week. It is even more than a quirky, reclusive billionaire played by Michael Emerson who hires a former CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) to save people’s lives. At the heart of it all, Person of Interest is science fiction at its best and unparalleled by anything on broadcast television.
Did I mention the Machine that gives the team their numbers is actually a prime example of artificial intelligence, to the point of actually assembling its own team to work on a project? If that isn’t science fiction at work, I don’t know what is.
Even the cast admits to the creepy science fiction reality of their show. In multiple interviews Michael Emerson (of LOST fame) points out that the longer he is on the show, the more he realizes just how quickly reality is catching up with the fantasy they’ve been portraying. Time and time again interviewers ask him if the show has changed how he views the world around them and his answer is always yes. Person of Interest does a phenomenal job in blurring the line between reality and fiction.
Perhaps the best part of a well done science fiction procedural being aired on broadcast television is the diverse audience it draws in. I dabble a lot in the Person of Interest fandom (who happen to be some of the kindest people I’ve ever met) and am constantly amazed at the diversity among viewers. My seventy year old father loves Person of Interest as much as an eighteen year old girl. The older viewers are oftentimes drawn in because procedurals are safe, easy to follow, and typical of what they like to watch. On the flip side, the science fiction aspect of the show tends to draw in a younger crowd. Person of Interest continues to flourish in the ratings because it can appeal to such a diverse audience.
Just look at the ratings from this past Tuesday’s episode from TV by the Numbers:
At 10:00 PM, Person Of Interest was first in viewers (10.95m) and adults 25-54 (2.8/07) and was second in adults 18-49 (1.8/05, -0.1 behind NBC). Compared to the last first-run episode on March 4, Person Of Interest was up +8% in adults 25-54 (from 2.6/07), +6% in adults 18-49 (from 1.7/05) and added +310,000 viewers (from 10.64m, +3%).
If you’re not one who likes to interpret numbers, allow me to summarize: Person of Interest, currently in its third season, has continued to dominate broadcast television and is consistently increasing its ratings. There is no third season slump for this show.
Person of Interest is more than a procedural. It is a wonderfully written, fantastically acted television series which has echoes of Isaac Asimov’s works and other science fiction themes. It is science fiction disguised as a procedural that, in my opinion, far out paces any other procedural show on television.
You can watch Person of Interest on CSB Tuesdays at 10/9c.