This review contains spoilers.
Intelligence, the new CBS series starring Josh Holloway as a volatile government agent with a chip in his head, will inevitably be compared to Chuck. So, getting it out of the way, how does it compare to Chuck? Not favourably. Once you get past the shock that CBS – a US network that has previously treated genre telly with outright disdain – has made a show with any sci-fi shadings at all (I blame Under the Dome), it becomes clear that this is just another bland procedural with a familiar face, strident patriotic stance and an uninteresting soon to be will they/won’t they partnership at its core. It’s Chuck without the laughs, or the interesting characters.
As far as I can gather with just one hour to work with, the central theme of Intelligence rests on the idea that, rather than robots being more like people a la this season’s Almost Human, mankind will end up making people more like robots. That’s pretty nifty on paper, and it’s a shame that it isn’t backed up by a lot of smart ideas in the episode itself. Holloway is Gabriel Vaughn, an enhanced super-agent barely introduced before he’s handed over to his new handler, a reluctant Riley Neal (played by Meghan Ory), and he’s already pretty comfortable with his various cerebral enhancements when we meet him.
That makes a change from the usual obligatory origin story, but the point of putting a story on television is usually so you get to play with more time. It feels as if a big chunk of backstory is missing from Intelligence and, as a result, I felt myself leaning more towards Riley than I did to Gabriel. Josh Holloway is the big selling point here, with fan favour still hanging on from Lost and a complete lack of exposure in the intervening years, so it’s shame that, right now, his character just isn’t very interesting. All we have to go on are his feelings towards his wife who may or may not have turned, and may or may not be alive, and that probably isn’t going to be enough.
Otherwise, his performance is just watered-down echoes of Sawyer and, as I’m sure some people can’t think of anything they’d rather watch than ‘Sawyer With a Chip in His Head: The Series’, for that section of the audience this pilot works just fine. There are some cool set-pieces – most notably in the opening sequence – and the potential for many more as the series continues, and I get the impression that Intelligence isn’t going to bother getting philosophical about the meaning of being human and the slow, creeping world-domination of technology. It’s going to be a charismatic spy shooting people and strolling around his mental evidence wall each week – and I guess that’s fine.
It’s light and fun and quippy and, while that may turn a huge section of the target audience (the target audience being sci-fi geeks and not your typical crime procedural guy) off from the start, there’ll be a million more gagging for a broad, case-of-the-week action thriller that includes a genre hook they can latch on to. If there was ever a sign of geek culture seeping into the mainstream, then just look at the difference between how Intelligence pitches itself as opposed to Chuck (there’s that comparison again) or any other given spy-fi series in years gone by.
I, for one, would hope Intelligence has intentions slightly beyond what it demonstrated in this first episode, but I’m not holding my breath. It could well become as smart and entertaining as CBS’ other genre offering, Person of Interest, or it could just offer up an hour of action heroes saving the world with high-tech gadgets every week. With a little more meat on the characters, Intelligence has potential but, otherwise, it’s a concept we’ve seen executed better elsewhere. It’s popcorn TV, if there even is such a thing, and a show specifically designed to tickle your fondness for sci-fi without taxing your brain too much.
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