Welcome back to “Don’t Touch That Dial,” a seasonal series in which I, your friendly neighborhood television addict, break down some of the shows screaming for your attention. In the first of two very special episodes, we’ll look at new procedurals—specifically, ones with a woman with a very particular set of skills, skills she has acquired over a very long career (Blindspot); a white man who learns that privilege is is all fun and games until someone gets hurt, in which case another privileged white man will just give you more privilege (Limitless); and a cop and a psychic using their knowledge of the future to harass potential criminals (Minority Report).
The Road So Far: In the middle of Times Square, an unidentified naked woman covered in tattoos emerges from a duffel bag. She has no memory of her life before her emergence, but she does possess a host of lethal skills. The FBI soon realizes her tattoos are clues, a sort of massive treasure hunt to both uncover the truth about who she really is and to stop a bunch of bad dudes from committing the kind of crimes you only see on “edgy” procedurals. Not only does Jane Doe (Thor and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Jaimie Alexander) have a tattoo on her back of FBI agent Kurt Weller’s (Sullivan Stapleton) name, but she also may be connected to a traumatic event from his childhood. And since it wouldn’t be a procedural thriller without it, sinister federal powers that be are plotting ways to silence her once and for all. It’s an hour of Jane kicking ass, her handlers fretting about her ass kicking, and sundry other characters being alternately impressed and annoyed. NBC, Mondays at 10 p.m.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I wanted to dislike Blindspot from the moment I saw the previews of naked Jaimie Alexander sprawled out and looking seductively at the camera. But the premise of an amnesiac with a Navy SEAL skill set crawling out of a bag was too enticing to resist. Several eps into the season, what was once both intriguing and totally ludicrous is now mostly just undercooked and silly. This isn’t a show I regret not watching the night it airs—I’ve cancelled work meetings because I might not get home in time for How To Get Away With Murder—but it’s also more than something I’d put on just to have some background noise while I wash dishes—*cough* Limitless *cough*. Jane has just enough mystery to her to be interesting and the background characters spark with enough chemistry to make Kurt less boring whenever he’s around them. It’s not a good sign when the character with no history has more development and depth than her co-stars.
The main reason I keep watching is Jane Doe. I like Jaimie Alexander enough, but I love the way the show treats Jane. She’s never reduced to a damsel in distress or treated like a petulant girl. The FBI agents all know she can handle herself and respect her abilities, but just as importantly, so do the writers. In fact, there’s a scene where Jane undressed to take a shower and it’s the first time in a long time I can remember seeing on television an attractive woman in a position of power wearing boy shorts and a sports bra rather than a slinky lace bikini undies and push-up bra. Her boots don’t have heels, either! I can’t believe it’s 2015 and it’s so unusual that I’m surprised whenever I see it, but then again Bryce Dallas Howard is still insisting running from dinosaurs in stilettos is empowering, so.
TL;DR: The show’s very premise might be its ultimate downfall. Each new tattoo leads to a case that just so happens to be going down right this very minute, twisting coincidence into contrivance. It also ensures the cases are solved not by solid detective work, but by dumb luck.
The Road So Far: Based on the Bradley Cooper movie of the same name from a few years ago, Limitless the TV show is about Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), a handsome white dude who gets his underachieving mitts on a magic pill that allows him to use all of his brain power. In a matter of seconds, he goes from failed musician and all-around sadsack twentysomething loser to a super genius caught up in a murder plot. Things get worse when an NZT-addicted senator (Cooper) blackmails Brian into working for him as a double agent against the FBI, for whom Brian also now works. Which is fine because the feds are double crossing him anyway as they work to reverse engineer his newfound abilities for their own military usage. But mostly Brian and Agent Harris (Dexter‘s Jennifer Carpenter) solve boring crimes with retread quips and terrible CGI. CBS, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Not a single second of Limitless is new. Every plot, every character, every line of dialogue is so mired in cliché that I’m pretty sure the writers are simply pulling words out of a hat and taping them to a piece of lined paper and calling it a script. A magic brain pill could be an interesting premise, but it’s really just window dressing on every contemporary Sherlock Holmes remake you’ve ever seen. A pseudo-misanthrope who speaks in blunt zingers that would be rude if he weren’t so damn charming? Check. Relationship issues, a closet full of graphic tees and leather jackets, and an off-the-charts IQ? Check. A confidante and colleague who is charmed by his gruffness and tells everyone he’s a better person than he lets on? Check. A boss who doesn’t always agree with the hero’s methods but lets him run roughshod over the rules because he gets the job done? Check. I mean, come on, CBS. At least pretend to try here.
Where Blindspot and Minority Report make great strides forward in diversity, Limitless seems to have forgotten people of color exist. With the exception of a couple of Black people, Limitless is as white as a mayo and white bread sandwich. And no, casting a white woman as a character with the Middle Eastern name “Nasreen Pouran” doesn’t count. It’s a sea of straight, white people. The show makes a big deal out of Brian, but he’s already living on the lowest difficulty setting. He has the luxury to waste his life playing music in dive bars without having to worry about debt, rent, or being taken advantage of. Then, another privileged white man offers him the chance to have even more privilege. (Not to mention that the three most threatening figures thus far are all Black.) His life before NZT wasn’t glamorous, but it wasn’t hard. You want to make a show about someone with nothing who suddenly has the keys to everything and have it be unique, meaningful, and progressive? Make it about a queer woman of color. The drama practically writes itself, and it would at least be unique in its casting.
TL;DR: The only fits of creativity are the special effects, the voiceover narration, and the shots of Brian talking to himself, but they’re so overused that each effects-laden jump-cut feels less like a clever prop and more like a gratuitous gimmick. Strip them away, and the show deflates.
The Road So Far: The decade after Tom Cruise brought down PreCrime and freed the precogs from their milk bath, the cops of 2065 Washington D.C. are having a helluva time. Det. Vega (Meagan Good) is a loose-cannon cop who feels hampered by having to do good old-fashioned investigative work instead of arresting people before they’ve done anything wrong. One of the precogs, Dash (Stark Sands), inserts himself into her work; with the reluctant assistance of his psychic siblings (Laura Regan and Nick Zano), his former caretaker (Daniel London), and a forensic something-or-other (Li Jun Li), Dash and Vega start targeting bad people before they can do bad things. They use the cover of a new police program to do undercover PreCrime, and each case leads them closer to the possible future of Vega kickstarting PreCrime all over again. Mostly it’s your average Case of the Week structure written by a team of writers who have utterly failed to get a grasp on the story or characters. Fox, Mondays at 9 p.m.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Like Limitless, Minority Report not only exists in the same universe as its titular predecessor but also fundamentally misunderstands the point of the novel on which it’s based. While there is general consensus that PreCrime might not have been a 100% good idea, no one seems to care about the reason the program was cancelled: the minority reports—the premonitions that each precog interpreted differently. If the psychics saw conflicting visions of the future, then that implied the future wasn’t so much set in stone as fluid and changeable, thus throwing the very concept out the window. PreCrime wasn’t a valuable tool for the police to protect the public, but a weapon in their arsenal. The only two people who understand that it shouldn’t be reinstated are two of the three precogs, and they care only for how it affects them; bizarrely, they are also set up as this season’s Big Bads. Even the new police program, Hawk-Eye, is basically a computer version of PreCrime but without all the messy morality. It’s such a jarring stance to take. We celebrate Edward Snowden as a folk hero and pressure our politicians into curtailing the NSA and ending the Patriot Act, and yet Minority Report‘s citizens are apparently so cool with government surveillance that they willingly sign up to spy on their neighbors. McCarthyism was a terrible moment in American history, not one we should automate, but I guess no one cares in the future?
The only positive in the whole damn show is that it’s wonderfully diverse. Of the three police department employees we’ve spent time with, all are people of color. Even the background and guest characters veer toward non-whites and women. Vega needs to buy some shirts that her boobs aren’t always threatening to spill out of, but aside from that, she has personal agency and is tough beyond of the Strong Female Character trope. (She’s also kind of a dick, too, which is fun—give me more anti-hero PoC please!) I’d like more diversity in sexual orientations, body types, and disabilities, but two outta five ain’t bad given our current state of television casting. Positive representation goes a long way, but can’t compensate for bland characters, uninspired plots, and stilted dialogue.
TL;DR: The best thing to be said about Minority Report’s eventual cancellation is that we won’t have to suffer through any more of the writers ignoring the total lack of chemistry between Vega and Dash and forcing them into an awkward relationship.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.