Monday, September 21, 2015

Pilot Review: Minority Report

Minority Report (Mondays at 9:00 on Fox; Premieres September 21)

I know I said just yesterday in my review of Blindspot that it's not always a bad thing to have preconceived notions of what a show is and to compare it to what came before. And that's true for that particular show; the comparisons it will draw to similarly plotted and themed films, shows, and novels are just comparisons. But with Minority Report, we have a show that is an extension of an existing format: the 2002 Steven Spielberg directed hit which starred Tom Cruise (prior to his very public meltdown and decline in popular opinion). The comparisons between movie and series are not only inevitable in this case but necessary, and it's hard to separate the two when watching Minority Report's pilot. It's something that works completely against Max Borenstein's attempt to extend the story of the police force in future Washington, D.C.

For those unfamiliar with the film or short story by Philip K. Dick on which it is based, Minority Report takes place fifty years in the future (and eleven years after the end of the movie), where law enforcement uses extremely sophisticated crime scene reconstruction technology to solve murders. The Pre-Crime Unit, in which three siblings were able to see and predict crimes that had not yet happened through strange power of precognition, has been abolished following the film's outcome. The pre-cogs, Dash (Tony nominee Stark Sands), Arthur (Nick Zano, in his first non-comedic role since The CW reboot of Melrose Place) and Agatha (Laura Regan, Mad Men), were placed in seclusion to limit their powers and lead peaceful adult lives. But Dash continues to be haunted by visions and decides to use the fragments he sees (fragments which became full pictures when combined with those of his brother and sister) to solve crimes that have not yet been committed on his own. He's discovered by Detective Laura Vega (Meagan Good, late of Deception), who ultimately combines his visions with her intuition and technology to solve crimes, all while Dash seeks out his missing twin and tries to keep his identity as one of the pre-cogs a secret, lest he be captured and used for less noble purposes.

Unfortunately for the series, the excitement and meaning of the film does not translate very well to this television iteration. Even though it's been over a decade since Spielberg's take on the story was seen on screen, the effects far outstrip those present in the pilot and make the show look cheap and ugly in comparison. In fact, a lot of the set pieces which made the film so much fun to watch (the projected crime board, the quick-cut visions, the technological advances) are all but gone here. They are replaced with lame pieces like a drone that takes selfies (the next logical step after the selfie stick, I suppose) and octopus robots that serve burgers and fries at diners. The crime board is present, but it's considerably less impressive on a TV budget. Ditto to the face-melting injection Cruise took. (This isn't to say the visual effects aren't good, because by broadcast standards they are, but they just don't compare to those in a $100+ million budget Hollywood movie.) It immediately puts a sour taste in the viewer's mouth, or at least any viewer like me who is familiar with the source material, like when you drink off-brand cola: the general flavor is similar, but something about the taste is just unappealingly wrong.

Aside from the budget constraints, part of that blame can be placed on Borenstein's lackluster script. The Godzilla scribe takes the easy way out in almost every instance, from the predictable set-up of Dash's search for Arthur to the obviousness of the pilot's primary crime's perpetrator. The general buddy-cop relationship of Dash and Vega also feels old hat, as it's nearly exactly the same as the one on Fox's Sleepy Hollow, which aired in the same timeslot as Minority Report for the past two seasons. Both follow a serious-minded, take-no-shit African American female detective with a wry sense of humor and an awkward, out-of-place white guy with no social skills who doesn't know how to react to his surroundings (Ichabod because he's literally in a different time period, Dash because he was raised as a crime-fighting tool and then isolated from the world) and is prone to inappropriate outbursts. Whereas this pairing feels charming on Sleepy Hollow, thanks mostly to the incredible chemistry between its two leads, it falls flat here because of a strange performance from Sands that feels, at times, like he may be playing Dash as mentally challenged. Good does better with her material, but she doesn't have the biting line reading (yet) that will make her character likeable and quotable. Borenstein's script doesn't help her or anyone else in the cast. It's full of such beautiful one-liners as "Peekaboo, bitch!" About the only good choice made in the pilot is the inclusion of Daniel London as Wally, playing the same character he played in the film, the pre-cogs' handler who was in love with Agatha. The writing for Wally is spot-on and a perfect extension of who he was in 2002.

So clearly Borenstein and company have the ability to match at least parts of their predecessor. Why, then, does everything else feel so out of place? Minority Report is just another cop show, when you get down to it, so why even try to make the connection to such a well-known, well-liked property? If this were simply a futuristic procedural, I may not have found it as plodding and disappointing as I did. If it had even been a television-scale remake of the material, I may not be as apathetic as I am. But by making this show a sequel set in the same world as Spielberg's film, it automatically sets a high bar for itself, one that the pilot does not meet.

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