Allow your mind to drift back to the fall of 2004. A new show was about to debut that would change the shape of American television for the next several years. Networks would move away from procedurals in favor of the more serialized fare that had quietly been gaining traction on lesser channels. That show was Lost, and not only did it expose audiences to some truly great storytelling (for a couple seasons, at least), it also exposed us to Josh Holloway as Sawyer, the enigmatic grifter involved in the show’s central love triangle. Holloway was one of the show’s breakout stars; some people liked him because he was super smooth, some people liked him because he was sexy, I personally liked him because he would be perfect for the role of Gambit from the X-Men (a role he still hasn’t received for some crazy goddamn reason). After wrapping Lost Holloway has been largely absent from mainstream consciousness. Until now. He’s back, baby. But is it with a bang, or a bomb?
The days of the network serial are starting to fade, so the former con man has found himself in a more procedural locale. Intelligence, the show with the least inspired title in recent memory (seriously, I forgot the name of this series several times – even once while writing this review), follows Gabriel Vaughn (Holloway), an intelligence (get it?) operative with a computer chip in his brain that basically allows him to be in constant contact with the internet, able to look up anything and everything at any time in an effort to protect the country. Vaughn is shadowed by a secret service agent (Meghan Ory) and is directed by Marg Helgenberger’s (Helgs, for short) Lillian Strand. The show was created by Michael Seitzman (best known for writing that movie where Chris Kline and Josh Hartnett fight over a dying Leelee Sobieski. I’m sure you remember it), and very loosely based on the novel Phoenix Island by John Dixon.
The cast is pretty solid. Holloway is, as ever, the lovable cad. Holloway had a few opportunities to show range on Lost and it never went far outside brooding territory; it doesn’t seem as though Intelligence will push him too hard in any other directions. Helgs is fine in her role as the cold boss who clearly cares more than she wants you to realize. The cast is rounded out by character actors John Billingsley and P.J. Byrne (the latter is hot off a great turn in The Wolf of Wall Street) as the father and son duo who made Gabirel Vaughn’s current situation a reality. Neither actor shows off too much in the pilot episode, but hopefully they get a chance to shine as the series continues.
The episode has all of the problems you might expect from a pilot. There’s a lot of exposition, mostly out of Helgs’ mouth. Hopefully she gets to be less of a infodump next week, however even her more straightforward scenes with Holloway are pretty stiff. It seems to be a scripting issue, so perhaps things will loosen up as the writers in the room get their hands on the characters.
The pilot doesn’t break any new ground. In fact the very premise itself is hugely reminiscent of NBC’s Chuck, in which a young man had the U.S. Intelligence database downloaded into his brain by accident. Intelligence looks to take a more serious approach to the subject matter, which I hope they do. There are a lot of interesting things to explore with this idea. For instance, how human is a guy that is basically a living embodiment of the World Wide Web? If there was mention of how long Gabriel has been this asset for the government I missed it, but such work would have to have long-term mental effects on a person. In a year where Her discreetly examined the very nature of artificial intelligence under the guise a romance drama, there is certainly room for a television show to tackle similar themes while hiding as a cop drama. For now, however, the show is at least using the premise in some interesting way, particularly an impressive stand-off where Gabriel uses an infrared satellite link-up to locate his targets. And the so-called “cyber rendering” conceit is also a cool concept. The show sets Gabriel up as a Sherlock Holmes-type (which CBS already has two of in Elementary and The Mentalist), but at least Gabriel is always up front about using his brain-computer to cheat.
The future of Intelligence is unclear; it’s hard to tell whether the show will take risks, or rest on the laurels it has already established. There is a pretty rote sub-plot about the fate of Gabriel’s presumed-dead wife, but there are also upcoming appearances by Peter Coyote and Lance Reddick, so at least you can take the good with the bad. CBS is probably the best place for this show; it is sure to be more of a procedural than anything else, and CBS never saw a procedural it didn’t like. I might give the show one more episode to grab me, but it at least has a few good actors and a fresh set of eyes on a not-so-fresh idea – that oughta count for something.