Wednesday, 9 June 2010

'PERSONS UNKNOWN' 1.1 - "Pilot"

Wednesday, 9 June 2010
WRITER: Christopher McQuarrie
DIRECTOR: Michael Rymer
CAST: Jason Wiles, Alan Ruck, Chadwick Boseman, Tina Holmes, Sean O'Bryan, Lee Purcell, Reggie Lee, Daisy Betts, Andy Greenfield, Kate Lang Johnson & Lola Glaudini
[SPOILERS] Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) was once hired to pen a movie version of '60s cult hit The Prisoner (where a British secret agent found himself imprisoned in a surreal village and interrogated via mind-games), and after that project fell through he clearly decided to channel his aborted ideas into his own TV series.

The setup is thus familiar: a group of strangers wake up in an abandoned hotel, situated in a deserted small-town, with no knowledge of how they got there, who their kidnappers are, or why they were chosen. There's single mother Janet Cooper (Daisy Betts), who was financing an investigation into her husband's disappearance before she was kidnapped; alpha male Joe Tucker (Jason Wiles); Sgt Graham McNair (Chadwick Boseman); school counselor Moira Doherty (Tina Holmes); leggy socialite Tori Fairchild (Kate Lang Johnson); wealthy businessman Charlie Morse (Alan Ruck); and suspicious car salesman Bill Blackham (Sean O'Bryan). The gang's movements are watched on surveillance cameras, and they're unable to leave town because doing so triggers the release of sedatives from a capsule implanted inside their thighs.

The problem facing Persons Unknown is how awfully derivative it is of both the aforementioned Prisoner and Lost (this episode even appears to end with the reveal the town's on an island, or a coastline at the very least). There's nothing in this pilot that felt fresh and interesting; even the empty Downtown Hotel carried Shining overtones, while a spooky Night Watchman felt ripped from the pages of a Stephen King novel.

Another issue is how episode 1 spent such a lot of time explaining and investigating the concept, which felt maddening because the target audience will already be au fait with the premise and would have appreciated stronger characters to latch onto instead. The abductees are so thinly drawn it's agonizing (my brief descriptions of them above were gleamed NBC's website) and every single person reacted to this crazy situation with unlikely composure. Even the characters you'd imagine would be the first to crack keep it together remarkably well, and the hour ends with them sitting down to eat a banquet in a Chinese restaurant after opening cryptic fortune cookies.

None of it rang true, and that's surprising given the fact McQuarrie's screenplays are usually very strong in terms of character and dialogue. There was last-minute intrigue in the suggestion the characters may be called upon to kill each other in order to escape captivity, so perhaps the series will develop an appetizing Big Brother-meets-Battle Royale vibe in future episodes, but Persons Unknown sure got off to a weak start. On the bright side, the show is a self-contained run of 13-episodes, so at least there's a built-in ending that means this doesn't feel like the start of a tedious five-year commitment.

  • This series was co-financed by broadcasters in Mexico (Televisa) and Italy (RAI), then filmed in Mexico City to keep costs low, all as part of Fox Television's international model of TV production.
  • Alan Ruck may be familiar to some as Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. You may also recognize Reggie Lee (playing the Chinese waiter) from season 2 of Prison Break.
7 JUNE 2010: NBC, 10|9c