Why Person of Interest Needs to Continue Being the Gutsiest Show on Television

While I’ve sung my praises for The Good Wife in another article on this site, there is one other network drama that I would consider to be on par with prestige cable dramas and head and shoulders above its network competition. That show would be Person of Interest (which I’ve talked about a bit before when I started it). This show turned what could have easily been a long running and cheesy procedural drama with sci-fi and serialized elements into what can be considered a television science fiction epic. It has honestly gotten that good as of late, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon. While I’m delighted that this show has improved as much as it did, I also have a nagging fear that perhaps the writers will cave into the demands of a certain type of fan. You see, there is a significant amount of viewers out there who just want Person of Interest to never try and be anything that’s ambitious and just stick to the “Case of the Week” structure. They want a show where Finch and Reese go through the same routine case after case, week after week, season after season, until eventually the show is 12 seasons old with 4 different spin-offs distinguished only by the different cities that get added to the end of their titles. Person of Interest: MiamiPerson of Interest: LAPerson of Interest cross-overs between the original show and Person of Interest: SVU (where a team goes out to stop sex crimes before they happen). The scariest thing about these demands though would be how easy it would be to meet them, to just give up and release regurgitated trash in place of interesting and unique content. This show peaked in ratings during the times where it was more of a procedural than a serialized drama, and now that it has shifted in the opposite direction the show has taken a hit in viewership. This is so depressing because the show is now better than it’s ever been.

Person of Interest has opted out of the approach of being a static and motionless series, and instead became one that is seriously focused on its world-building. This is a show that really wants to build its own mythos, and it’s doing just that in an engaging and stylish fashion (I get a special kick out of all of its flashback sequences). Ever since the season 2 episode “Relevance”, the world of Person of Interest and its technological mythology has widened beyond levels I never thought it’d approach. New characters, new plots, and a whole new universe were born then. On top of this is the risks it is willing to take. The fact that these character’s could die at just about any point creates a sense of tension few shows could achieve. A willingness to axe off even the most beloved series staples and threaten our heroes with some truly terrifying villains is another thing that separates Person of Interest from its competition.

Speaking of villains, the central antagonist of this show, which revolves around an omniscient AI, is yet another omniscient AI known simply as “Samaritan”. Samaritan is the show’s biggest threat (and one that it has patiently been building up to since the second season), and it is also one that was brought about by the British and appropriately sinister villain portrayed by John Nolan (the uncle of the show’s creator). Samaritan isn’t the kind of threat that the procedural viewing public is used to. It forces our heroes to hide like rats, it creates an uncomfortable tension due to its all seeing eye, and it is as subtle as it is diabolical. There are many people who watch this show who aren’t accustomed to that kind of tension. They are used to villains who are all bluster, villains who only threaten heroes superficially, villains who really don’t have any effect on them whatsoever. With Samaritan watching, the show’s stars are constantly looking over their shoulder, constantly assessing their situation, making sacrifices, and moving forward only after a great deal of thought. The consequences are all the more real because the show has already demonstrated the destructive power of this nemesis at numerous points (most notably in the recent and phenomenal episode titled “If-Then-Else”). To complicate matters further, Samaritan is the kind of destructive force that accomplishes a great deal of good despite its arrogance. This is the kind of villain that forces you to think about the impact it has on this show’s expertly crafted world, and therein lies the problem for many viewers. Most people don’t want to think when they watch shows, and if Person of Interest‘s fall in ratings coinciding with its rise in quality is any indication, this is proving to be a problem. My hope in all of this however, is that this show will not lose its way.

Several years from now, people are going to remember Person of Interest in one of two ways. Either as a modern sci-fi epic that is considered a must-see show along the lines of Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, or as “that show that’s been on for way too long and was good for a little bit many years ago”- in other words, a joke. The direction the show is on now is the direction that will lead it into becoming something that is truly great, something that is immortal. A show reaches immortality when it is great enough to be remembered long after it has ended, a show becomes a brain-eating zombie when it has far overstayed its welcome. What certain fans want for the show is to cripple it, to put it on an endless cycle of “catching the bad guys” week after week just so they can have some mindless entertainment every Tuesday night; however, if the show’s last episode is any indication (an episode centering almost entirely around a former antagonist instead of the show’s stars), that isn’t going to be happening. Person of Interest is absolutely committed to telling its story at the moment, and I could not be more appreciative. I am not saying that having any traditional procedural episodes is awful (sometimes they are a nice break from the action of the main plot), but I am saying that those should all play back seat to the serialized plot that is being built. Long after the show is over, people are not going to be talking about that one episode where a married couple hired hitmen to kill one another, they’re going to be talking about the technological “War of the Gods” that took place. Just as this show’s characters believe in the omniscient artificial intelligence known simply as “The Machine”, I believe in the show’s creators and their ability to overcome the adversity of the expectations of certain viewers in order to create something truly great.

Quote of the Day:

“One day, I realized all the dumb, selfish things people do… it’s not our fault. No one designed us. We’re just an accident, Harold. We’re just bad code. But the thing you built… It’s perfect. Rational. Beautiful. By design.”

– Root, Person of Interest

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18 thoughts on “Why Person of Interest Needs to Continue Being the Gutsiest Show on Television

  1. This is honestly one of my favorite shows on television. By all accounts from the creative team, POI will never become a standard procedural; they aren’t interested in making that type of show at all. Hopefully the network, who has been supportive of the show’s vision since the beginning (likely due to Jonah Nolan’s involvement), will continue to trust in them story-wise even as viewership declines.

    While the procedural-viewers may be leaving, it looks like more and more sci-fi fans are hearing about the show as it heads into more speculative fiction territory. (I have personally been evangelizing the show to all my nerd friends.) Hopefully the release of POI on Netflix this year will allow new viewers to hop on board.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The show itself is indeed top notch. The fanbase on the other hand is mostly awful. Sometimes I wonder how this show attracts all of those hateful pompous unfriendly people a.k.a “core fanbase”. The only nice people there are mostly Root/Shaw shippers and Ms. Acker fans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s not entirely true Chasity, come to r/personofinterest and you’ll meet plenty of like minded happy people who aren’t just shipping Root and Shaw.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Not all of the POI fan base is like that, there are quite a few very nice people on Tumblr who love all the characters. My favorite is John Reese, Finch, The Fusco, Shaw, and finally Root. While I have my favorites, I love all the characters and the excellent acting, writing and direction on POI. It is a superb show and I will follow where it leads.

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    3. Not all of the POI fan base is like that. There is a very active POI fan base on Facebook that is actively supports the show. Also on Tumblr many people post articles, analyses, and pictures from the show. Not all fans of the current Season 4 are strictly Shaw and Root, Shoot, fans. Some of us like John Reese the best, (me) but also love the other characters. I will,continue to watch and enjoy the show as I feel it is one of the most original, thought -provoking shows I have ever seen. The acting, writing and direction, not to mention the cinema -level photography is first rate. POI is imho is equal to or better to Cable drama with a bigger budgets and non-network restrictions.

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  3. I’m inclined to agree with you, Chastity! You just have to look at majority of the fans on their Facebook page to know how nasty the fanbase is. Although I’m extremely pleased to say that I have not once met a rude fan on Tumblr.

    Great article, by the way! : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe the fan base on the CBS Facebook page has nasty fans, I have heard that they did not like the Shaw/Root kiss. Oh well. But the POI Facebook fan page, not CBS, love and supports POI.

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      1. Not true, most of the hate comments came from the PoI FB fan page. Some people there are so nasty that they are willing to accuse Sarah Shahi having an affair with the EPs to get on the show and kill Carter, writers are on drugs etc…

        Some are even hateful enough to look through hundreds of comments everyday just to reply on how much they hate the characters and the new direction of the show.

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  4. The fear that the creators can be pressured to go back to the procedural formula is entirely unfounded. It’s not that the show “improved” after the early seasons – this, what we’re seeing now, was always the show; this was the plan from the beginning, the early NotW format was just the sheep’s clothing they used to get it on the air (Nolan has spoken about this quite a few times).

    I don’t think anyone involved creatively is interested in keeping it on the air just for the sake of the ratings, the only question is whether they can retain enough of an audience to get a few more seasons to tell the story (and holy shit, if this show can’t do it, then we’re all screwed).

    As for fandom, I don’t really have any experience outside the Shoot shippers and Acker enthusiasts (and the Rinchers, I guess), who are uniformly wonderful. Who does that even leave? People who couldn’t change the channel because they fell asleep during “CSI: Whatever”?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Read any FB comment thread for this show and you better believe the highest rated comments are the guys demanding the show go back to what it was in S1. And ya, you’re right, the direction the show is a lot more methodical than this article gives it credit for.

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  5. POI was always about The Machine, it is right there in the Pilot eppy. I loved Season 1, it introduced me to Reese and Finch, Carter, The Fusco, Zoe, and finally Root. It was what got me hooked on POI. While I love and will always love Season 1, I also love subsequent Seasons as the show raised the stakes and got more complicated. I am in for the whole ride. Pity the fools that do not go along.

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  6. I remember when the show first came out, I thought it had a great plot, but I stopped watching it after episode 8 because it seemed like it was going to be the standard procedural show. Last summer I noticed some people on Tumblr talking about how great the show was, I was intrigued so I decided to watch some scenes on YouTube and I was blown away by the quality and dept, so I decided to give it another try. To be honest it took me about 4 moths to finish season 1 and the first half of season 2 but after the Relevance episode the show changed for the good and during the Holidays I binge watch the rest of season 2,3 and the recent episodes of season 4. I’m obsessed with Amy Acker’s character, Root, she is truly one of the best female character on television, and I can not get enough of her.
    Even though the show is loosing viewers, is gaining new ones who are not afraid of serialized and smart shows with character development. I hope Netflix releases POI because there is a lot of people getting interested and want to watch it but they don’t want to buy the DVDs/episodes in case they don’t like it. I hope it gets at least 3 more seasons or I will cry for months.

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  7. Nice reading agree 100% Roots’s story has made this show soo much better and my heart jumps a beat when ever she appears on screen ! but i must say Root’s at her best with and iron in one hand 🙂

    – i dont under poeple who take the time go to a show’s facebook page just to spead hate ? beats me

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think we need to be REAL! Person of Interest is taking a bad beating in the ratings department …It’s great to be ground breaking and all that jazz but if you have no audience you have not show! The ratings this season thus far at it’s highest only achieved is 1.80 18-49 that was the season opener season4 episode 1 and the lowest was season 4 episode 7 (honor among thieves) with a 1.32 18-49 and Sarah Shahi tweeted her heart out about it…… and no this is not and attack on Saraha Shahi……. this is the TRUTH of the situation…. Max Headroom was ground breaking also …….but had not audience…..i.e. not show!

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