If your TV radar is restricted to cable channels and streaming services, chances are you never heard much about CBS’s show Person of Interest. Airing from 2011 to 2016, what started as a crime procedural grew a cult following as it built its world with twisting storylines and complicated characters, played by a memorable and sometimes quirky cast. It successfully mixed action and conspiracies with heavier questions about the future of artificial intelligence and privacy, separating it from the standard network offerings. Luckily for those who initially missed out, the show’s full five seasons are available on Netflix. But what makes it stand out in the midst of Netflix’s crowded queue?
First of all, the series boasted a powerhouse of showrunners, with two standing out in particular. Jonathan Nolan (brother of director Christopher Nolan) created and produced the series, along with directing the overarching plot. He’s no stranger to telling gripping stories, having written screenplays for The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar. After Person of Interest finished, he created a little show for HBO called Westworld, which also focuses on artificial intelligence. Also producing POI alongside Nolan was J.J. Abrams, of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Trek fame. Of course he also produced Lost, and this is reflected in Person of Interest’s morally gray characters and mythology-building flashbacks.
The premise of the show rests on the existence of The Machine — an incredibly powerful surveillance A.I. made for the government to predict largescale terrorist attacks. A team of vigilantes is able to access The Machine's "back door" for information about individual acts of crime that are determined "irrelevant," specifically murder. The catch is they're only able to identify a single person of interest, who will either be the victim or the perpetrator, but that’s all they — and the audience — knows. It’s a fun twist on the standard crime show premise, since the goal is to prevent the murder from happening in the first place.
The show structure is a combination of procedural and serialized storytelling, and as the seasons continue, the ongoing plot starts to gain precedence over the case of the week. It is at this point that the series really takes off, and all the threads start to tie together. That’s not to say the slow burning early season is worse, as some of the random people or “numbers” the team helps later become important characters. Throughout the whole series, the vigilante group has to contend with a robust villain’s gallery of mob bosses, government spooks, and artificial intelligence. This, combined with slight sci-fi elements and vigilante heroes creates a somewhat comic book vibe.
An interesting premise is nothing without engaging characters, and luckily Person of Interest features quite a bit of acting talent. Movie actor Jim Caviezel and Lost alum Michael Emerson form the foundation of the show as former government hitman John Reese and billionaire tech genius Harold Finch, respectively. Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Hidden Figures) also stars as the detective tasked with tracking down Caviezel's "Man in the Suit." Fan favorites Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse) and Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint, Veronica Mars) also stood out for their layered, morally ambiguous characters.
Ramin Djawadi composed the soundtrack for all five seasons. If that name doesn't ring a bell, he's also the genius behind the music of Game of Thrones and Westworld. And while there may not be songs fitting for the spectacle of armies attacking dragons, he manages to nail a cinematic quality nonetheless with recurring themes that complement the show's lighter moments and darker struggles. When Ramin takes a break, other songs such as Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" or Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt" form some of the most memorable moments of the series.
As I mentioned before, all five seasons are now up at Netflix, and while the longer network seasons may not be the most binge-friendly, entertainment website IGN made a convenient list of essential story episodes for those with less patience. However, even the standalone episodes feature great character moments and background, so that list should only be used for those short on time. Plus, the shortened 12 episode final season is basically one long finale, and feels made for Netflix. By the end of the journey, it's obvious that the showrunners had a very clear plan for the series, as the story and show itself evolved with each thought-provoking development. If there's one network show you decide to catch up on, it should be Person of Interest.
What's your favorite crime show on Netflix?