TV drama season 2015/16 has begun, and we’re off to the races with lots of returning shows and many, many new contenders. A lot of pilots have come out last week, and here’s a quick review for those that I’ve previewed in the summer: Blindspot, Minority Report, and Rosewood.
Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton star in NBC’s new offering, dealing with a Jane Doe found in Times Square, tattoos covering her body, and the name of a senior FBI agent inked over her shoulder blades. Beware of Jane Doe, the tackling amnesiac.
Obviously, this pilot has to do a few things at once. It has to introduce us to a whole team, a new FBI unit, and to the person that Jane Doe has no idea who she is. From the get-go, we have to grapple with ideas of identity formation and agency, and how much of it you can have when someone chemically removed all your memories and you have been literally branded with the name of a total stranger. Branding implies property, and as much as his name on her back is more of a “return to sender” at this point, we already know she’s going to be stuck with him for a while. Is his name going to stay there? Is she going to want to remove it? Are they going to help her do that? What’s their relationship going to be like, and how is it going to shift the more she figures out about herself? What’s clear is that they have to treat her like a full-sized and fully formed human being from the very beginning, but that’s hard if you’ve got nothing to bounce off of. Her base personality seems to be pretty much made out of determination, as well as an instinctual need to help and protect — or, rather, protect and serve. Jane, to borrow from the concept of her skin, is a nearly blank canvas at this point, and that makes it difficult for others to interact with her — there’s going to be a lot of projection going on. Weller himself is struggling with himself not to make that mistake too much. It’s clear at this point that he’s going to have to help her, and that she’s going to rely on him for guidance and support. He will be instrumental in finding her sense of self again, but the writers must be careful not to let him mould her. He can help her feel comfortable to make her own choices, but those choices must be absolutely her own. I like that she’s as open with her fear as she is with her determination, that they’re not trying to package her as suffering in silence. She’s been traumatised, and I hope they’re not going to be hiding it behind the Strong Female Character trope. They did somehow manage not to make the camera into an extension of the male gaze, or to sexualise other people looking at her. What’s being focused on is Jane’s own discomfort with being reduced to the images and on her naked skin. Still, tattooing someone all over is, um, fishy.
So for all that, it’s important that her doctor tells her, explicitly, that she is not helpless. In the beginning, she looks at her body and breaks down. At the end, she looks at the markings on her skin with a new eye, with determination and intent, intent on making sense of what she sees. And then there’s the twist at the end, revealing that she knew what she was getting into, that her memories were erased with her consent, which of course she can’t know now. The man who injected her has been watching over the course of the episode, and he killed Chao in hospital, and he’s the one who trained her. He’s the one sending the message, and whatever she agreed for him to do, it makes her something dangerously close to a double agent.
Jane, as they call her for now, oscillates between fierce and helpless pretty hard in this episode, courtesy of her procedural memory. Her desperation and fear are well-played, I think, and they still feel genuine juxtaposed with what suddenly bursts out of her. In those moments when she suddenly speaks Chinese or remembers her combat skills, she’s sure of herself and exists in the moment, and then as soon as she’s back to herself, she’s shivering again. Of course, all of that stuff has to be expedited and rules bent for plot convenience, so that we may learn more about her as soon as possible. Such as her being a Navy SEAL, apparently. That’s when she realises that she has to fight to be part of the field team in order to help, and so both she and Weller get their heroic moments in this pilot episode. As much as she’s a mystery, she’s an asset. And they picked a big one for the start — just to illustrate the magnitude of the threat, the message that someone is sending: they’re gonna blow up the Statue of Liberty.
And there it is — Weller calls her a “resource.” What I like about Weller in the first part of the pilot is that he is unfailingly polite, as much as he can be with a Jane Doe dropped on his team with no idea who she is or why the hell she has his name stamped onto her back. It’s clear that he’s not the typical TV FBI asshole who’s a jerk but respected by everyone because he’s good at his job, he doesn’t fall into that kind of trope. He does this job to protect people and he takes that seriously, and he hasn’t forgotten that people who are frightened need and deserve a gentle hand, and protection. The way he looks at her changes a little after he realises that her tattoos may be clues to cases, terrorist threats they don’t have any sort of intelligence on — suddenly, it’s not about risking an innocent victim’s life by letting her go out in the field, it’s about nearly wasting a resource. Tsk. Government agency types. But as he visits her in the safe house, he’s worried about her; so I’m hoping that maybe he’ll be able to see the human before the asset.
Going forward, it’s all going to depend on how they’re going to balance Jane going out into the field with them and Jane actually finding herself. As the doctor encouraged her, even if her previous memories are gone, that doesn’t mean she can’t reconstruct herself under her own steam. And with some of those memories already coming back, apparently not all is lost. Yay, triggering memories tropes, here we come!
Intermediate verdict: 3.5 out of 5 bullet casings.
13 years after the release of the Tom Cruise-led blockbuster, the Precogs are back. Agatha, Dash (Stark Sands), and Arthur were sent to an undisclosed location after the Precrime programme was abolished following the events of the movie, and now the three children who were never allowed to grow up are trying to cope with their new lives. In a world filled with holo screens that just will not shut up, Dash is trying ti use his powers to save people himself. But with Arthur missing, he’s missing half of the puzzle, and Agatha is refusing to help him, begging him to come home.
Ok, now that play-through sequence of the crime is pretty cool! It’s a much more involved usage of super-cool new tech than Almost Human ever had, for instance. (I’m only comparing the two because the universes look remarkably alike in their aesthetic. Actually using the technological advances is more in the day-to-day here, with kids using their tech bracelets to take group selfies, and not as high-brow as in the other show. Still, I’m not convinced that this show is going to delve more deeply into the ethical issues with this kind of SciFi than Almost Human did.) But as with Almost Human, everything is very fancy and very expensive. I wonder if this will have any more poor people than Almost Human, if they’ll be hiding behind a Wall as well, or if poverty’s just going to be abolished in this brave new world. Minority Report asks at least some questions about the wisdom of Precrime, of convicting people of crimes that haven’t been committed yet, of the dangers of a prison system that destroys people’s minds.
It’s funky how Vega (Meagan Good) realises so quickly that Dash is one of the Precogs, and it’s even funkier how excited she is. I mean, look at her! She’s delighted, and she’s done mopping up the messes. She wants to save people before something happens to them, and Dash wants that, too… but it will mean using Dash. He’s risking a lot more in this than she is, he never had a choice in being part of Precrime, and they need to remain conscious of that power imbalance. It’s only going to work if she can really keep him safe, and people are going to start asking questions as to how she always manages to be there just in time. But Dash is going to love working with her, I can tell. They’ll make a great team. What’s great is how diverse the show is — the Police Department, especially Vega’s team and her somewhat treacherous lieutenant, are amazingly non-white for a FOX show. And where Dash has pretty much no social skills whatsoever, it seems as though Arthur has mastered the art of being a charming manipulator. And he’s not alone, it seems: Agatha is up to something, she’s been having visions of them being taken again, which is probably why she is so weary of Vega. She’s afraid she’s going to sell them out, make them go through all of that again. And she’s afraid that Dash is going to agree with Vega, insist that the help they can offer is more important than their own sanity.
Yo, but dude: is that boob window in any leather jacket Vega wears really, really necessary? Like, let’s stock up on the objectification here. I thought boob windows were for superheroines.
Intermediate verdict: 3.5 out of 5 selfie drones.
On the other end of the spectrum, the next FOX offering is firmly on the sunny side of life, and very much set in the present. Dr. Beaumont Rosewood (Morris Chestnut), nicknamed Rosie, and his sister Pippy (Gabrielle Dennis) are running a private pathology business — oh also, his sister’s getting married to Kathy (Anna Konkle), the third team member of the pathology business, and they have the cutest couple dynamic. (An interracial lesbian couple on prime time, who knew?)
Wait, are they conducting autopsies without any sort of of protective gear?? I mean, this is all very cool and aesthetic and suave, but dude. Lab coat!
Jaina Lee Ortiz plays the new cop on the scene, Detective Annalise Villa, and of course he can’t help but hit on her. She can’t help but put him in his place. And then there’s that tragic backstory of hers — her dead husband, borrowed straight from Forever‘s Detective Martinez. Can these cops never, just once, get into the opening of a show without losing someone? (Also, without opening up that avenue of romance? Very convenient.)
In any case, the chemistry between them is good, Morris and Jaina bounce off of each other well, but the script is falling out of the Cop with a Chip on Her Shoulder Cliché tree and the Hedonistic Rich Guy tree and is hitting every trope branch on the way down, along with the Unlikely Partners Working Well Together tree. So many trees! It’s Castle all over again, and this one reminds me so much of Taxi Brooklyn in its stereotypes, it hurts. And that’s pretty much all this show does. It’s enjoyable enough, and the characters are likable, but the character beats are all roads well-travelled. We’ll see how this goes on and if it manages to sustain itself. Question is how seriously this show is going to take itself in the coming weeks.
Stop smelling the suspect!
The drama, in this case, stems from Rosewood’s unique relationship with death. He’s got two holes in his heart, and he’s got about ten years left to live, if he’s lucky.
“Rosie, put a leash on this chick, man!”
“Oh, no, no, no, no, he’s gonna hang tight, sip on his virgin Virgin like a gentleman, isn’t that right, Rosie?”
Intermediate verdict: 2.5 out of 5 scalpels.