Jonathan Storm: From CBS, open and shut crime, and a ghost

Michael Emerson (left) , Jim Caviezel in "Person of Interest" as cyber-assisted crime fighters.
Michael Emerson (left) , Jim Caviezel in "Person of Interest" as cyber-assisted crime fighters. (ERIC LEIBOWITZ / Warner Bros.)
Posted: September 22, 2011

At the end of Premiere Week, CBS does what it does best, offering a new murder-and-mayhem series on Thursday and a medical entry with a ghost on Friday. Both tweak the network's time-tested formula of open-and-shut cases every night, wrapped up in the ongoing saga of the lead characters' lives.

Thursday's Person of Interest, a cyber-assisted crime-prevention study, is the more compelling show, but Friday's A Gifted Man has relatable actors, including double Tony Award-winner Jennifer Ehle as a very down-to-Earth visitor from beyond the veil.

Ehle is not the only talented thespian in these shows, which both make extensive, and effective, use of tight camera shots to propel story and character. In an era of 50- and 60-inch screens, you have to be good when your giant head is up there all alone.

The tight shots in Person of Interest also help convey the post-9/11 claustrophobia that is central to the show.

"The public wanted to be protected," Mr. Finch tells Mr. Reese, lead characters who are officially listed as dead and who are anonymous enough not to need first names. "They just didn't want to know how they were being protected. . . . The machine is everywhere, watching us with 10,000 eyes and listening with a million ears."

Reese actually was inquiring about a different machine, one that spits out the Social Security numbers of New Yorkers about to be involved in violent crime. Finch developed it for the government to identify terrorists, but he kept a secret entry for himself.

The gimpy, punctilious, cold-blooded Finch, a perfectly cast Michael Emerson (Ben Linus in Lost), wants to stop the crimes, but he needs an operative. That would be super-duper killer spy Reese, who is sometimes so good at his job that it's almost funny.

Handsome Jim Caviezel, who was Mel Gibson's Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, will give the ladies something to look at, as he cuts a broad swath through the criminals, aided by the latest surveillance gear and the biggest guns.

Sometimes the pattern-recognizing computer identifies a potential victim, sometimes a potential wrongdoer. Neither Finch nor Reese nor the audience knows which it is at first - part of the show's appeal.

Of course, it all sounds preposterous, but so did a movie about a guy who remembered everything backward, and Jonathan Nolan was nominated for a writing Oscar for Memento. The Lost team of J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk are also on board.

CBS says the show tested higher than any in network history, and it has chased CSI to Wednesdays to modernize its most valuable slot, Thursdays at 9 p.m., with Person of Interest.

A Gifted Man is even more preposterous, with Ehle playing the spectral presence that dare not say its name.

"So you're a - ," Michael Holt asks his altruistic ex-wife, who can sit there and eat dinner with you and whose skin compresses when she touches you. This is not a show about spooky special effects.

Holt, played by another good actor with a background in film and theater, Patrick Wilson, is The World's Best (and most expensive) Neurosurgeon, so good he has a whole Manhattan hospital named after him. He's driven and rich and pretty much devoid of spiritual qualities.

So a spirit comes to help him with that, and pretty soon he's helping out in her former clinic, a low-rent charity joint in the Bronx, no less.

This one also has illustrious talent behind the curtain, including Jonathan Demme, who won an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs, and Susannah Grant, Oscar-nominated as the writer of Erin Brockovich.

Of more direct interest to viewers may be the cool supporting cast, Rachelle Lefevre from Twilight, Julie Benz from Dexter, Pablo Schreiber from Weeds and The Wire, and the incomparable Margo Martindale, fresh off her Justified Emmy, who plays Holt's secretary and general factotum.

These folks all know what they're doing, and the characters and cases are much more grown up and interesting than the folderol on Grey's Anatomy or Private Practice or CBS's previous Friday night darling, Ghost Whisperer. A Gifted Man is solid enough, in fact, to make you forget it's a ghost story.


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/jonathanstorm.

Person of Interest

9 p.m. Thursday on CBS3.

A Gifted Man

8 p.m. Friday on CBS3.

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