Persons Unknown (NBC)
Premiered June 7 at 10pm
It’s hard to be positive about a series whose summertime premiere all but damns it to a short life. It’s even more difficult when the show is one big, enormous pile of confounding mysteries, and there’s little hope that they’ll ever be solved. Shows like “Reunion” in the past fizzled quickly once it became clear that they wouldn’t be around for long and that their many, many questions would never be answered. At least the initial mysteries on that show were interesting.
That’s not the case at all on NBC’s new summer series, which finds seven strangers trapped in a hotel without knowing how or why they came to be there. Ideally, this is an interesting concept, but too much clout and no concrete clues can really detract from its effectiveness. In the past, shows like “The Nine” and particularly “Lost” have flashed forwards or back to fill in more information about each of the characters every episode. For this premiere, all we have is the surface presentation, and characters could easily be lying about their histories and intentions. The smattering of personalities gathered together seems all too convenient, and speaking to their personalities, each one is more annoying than the next. Their solutions to supposed problems, like all taking their pants off to determine if they’ve been implanted with a tracking device, are inane. Worse still, there’s a Chinese restaurant next door to the hotel, and the staff (none of whom can speak English) simply provide food and no answers.
As tends to be the case on shows like this, two of the seven characters are being positioned as the de facto leaders of the group. The female is a single mother who worries about the well-being of her young daughter, while the male is a man who refuses to reveal what he did before coming to the island, sorry, hotel. His no-fear attitude is clearly going to result in him being the first one killed by the smoke monster. While that last comment isn’t quite accurate, there is an incredible amount of discussion about the topic of “how do we know you’re not one of them.” So, basically, we have seven people stuck in a ghost town trying to figure out what the Others want from them while being served abundances of free Chinese food. Fear not, there are people out there who may ultimately be looking for them. They wouldn’t do anything as productive as sending a freighter out to scout for their location; instead, they’re too busy concerning themselves with transvestite prostitutes. This show is definitely putting the emphasis on the right elements.
How will it work as a series? The pilot may be an exception, and there could be a scheme of flashing back to reveal characters’ pasts in each episode. I’m not confident in that, however, and if this show relies on its characters to fill in their own back stories, this is going to be one slow, miserable ride. One big clue per episode might be nice, but if it’s just one that adds more mystery – like an order to kill a neighbor – that just won’t do.
How long will it last? There’s no way that this show will see the light of day post-summer. That said, it probably won’t find an audience during the summer opposite repeats of “CSI: Miami.” It’s asking a lot for audiences to commit to digging into these characters’ lives, and a much simpler show like “Windfall” couldn’t even accomplish that a couple of years ago. NBC will want to tread carefully given the year the network has had, but I don’t expect this one to still be on the air by August.
Pilot grade: F