Intelligence: TV Review
Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS, beginning Jan. 7
Josh Holloway, Marg Helgenberger, Meghan Ory, John Billingsley
A new CBS drama goes a little -- fine, a lot -- overboard on the merging of humans and high tech.
Can an idea corrupt a brand?
Maybe corrupt is too strong of a word, but can a successful idea lead to an ill-advised risk in the hopes of repeating that success? It certainly seems like CBS, one of the most successfully branded networks, used its own Person of Interest drama as the blueprint for Intelligence, which premieres on Jan. 7.
The DNA doesn't seem too much altered. Just take a sophisticated system like "The Machine" in Person of Interest and, say, implant that in a person's head and … wait, no, that's too far outside the CBS box. Right?
CBS is by far the most smartly programmed of the Big Four networks. No network better understands what it does well, which, among other things, is churning out smart, machine-honed procedurals. Whenever CBS misfires badly, it's likely because it took a chance and veered from its typical course. And Intelligence, with its aggressively modern graphics and sci-fi premise -- a "supercomputer microchip" is implanted in an "intelligence operative" named Gabriel (Josh Holloway, Lost), who can one-up Tom Cruise in Minority Report -- seems just such a chance-taking.
And that, almost immediately, is the problem with Intelligence. We've barely met Gabriel and he's accessing memories in some kind of weird high-tech walkthrough where he sees what's happened and uses that to tap into all kinds of computer equipment for information. But he also thinks what happened -- a blurring of computer facts and brain extrapolations, it seems. I believe the show calls this technique "cyber-rendering." It's hard to remember because my head hurt trying to imagine what the hell the show was up to. "Think of it like a dream," Gabriel says, not helping.
Heck, let CBS explain what's going on here: "As the first supercomputer with a beating heart, Gabriel is the most valuable piece of technology the country has ever created and is the U.S.'s secret weapon."
OK. Sure. Got it.
Actually, it just seems kind of far-fetched. And far-fetched is not a CBS kind of trait.
Intelligence is very enamored with tech-talk. In the series there's this almighty entity called the United States Cyber Command, which appears to be run by Director Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger). Inside the United States Cyber Command (no capes!), she's running something called Clockwork. Or as Strand says: "Clockwork -- this generation's Manhattan Project."
Strand has recruited Secret Service agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory) to protect Gabriel who, even according to the president, is more important than the president. Gabriel is kind of like the Six Million Dollar Man, but accounting for inflation and improved battery life -- so maybe the Six Billion Dollar Man would be more apt. Does young, pretty and skinny Riley know what she's getting into? No.
According to Strand, Gabriel is the ultimate modern tech prize. "We connected a human being to the information grid -- entertainment, WiFi, television and satellite," she says, as if that's super cool. But it sounds like this so-called information grid is somewhere near the "sub net" on 24. Translation: There's a lot of hokum here.
But Intelligence isn't content with its already thinly stretched premise. It also has to feature Gabriel doing exponentially cooler things online than you can dream of. He can literally be a computer, looking up embarrassing things or especially helpful things. Then he does that freaky walking into a scene trick (said scene is usually some kind of carnage) and everything slows down or freezes as Holloway gets this strange, slightly mystified look on his face (that greenscreen acting thing) and accesses data while it hovers around him in a red cloud of cyber-rendering.
It seems like quite the advantage. It also seems like a real stretch. And a little silly. But who knows? Maybe there's an audience for this kind of thing -- even though that audience would be better served watching Almost Human on Fox.