When a major broadcast network other than Fox develops a science-fiction series, I always become intrigued. While Fox tends to favor programs that are more firmly rooted in the genre, the other broadcasters have a tendency to gravitate toward shows that are generally more adulterated. A prime example can be found on Monday at 10 p.m. ET as CBS unveils its new sci-fi action drama “Intelligence.”
CBS has had tremendous success with its one-hour crime procedurals including the CSI and NCIS franchises, “Criminal Minds,” “Person of Interest” and “Hawaii Five-O.” With “Intelligence,” the network hasn’t strayed too far from the template used to develop those series. What they have done, it seems, is to insert a number of proven elements from past sci-fi and fantasy shows. While watching “Intelligence,” I experienced a feeling of classic-TV déjà vu. I was reminded of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “MacGyver,” “Airwolf,” “Jake 2.0,” “Chuck” and several others.
At the center of “Intelligence” is Gabriel Vaughn (“Lost” alum Josh Holloway). Early in the pilot, his boss Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger) has this to offer of Gabriel: “(He) was Delta Force, tier one, five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s a hero. He’s also reckless, unpredictable and insubordinate. We connected (him) directly to the information grid -– Internet, Wi-Fi, telephone, satellite. This is the most valuable piece of technology this country has ever created.”
Both Gabriel and Lillian are part of a top-secret government project called Clockwork, which is “this generation’s Manhattan Project.” Their objective is to guard the United States from terrorism, with Gabriel as their instrument, thanks to a revolutionary computer microchip implanted into his brain. The eccentric Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy (John Billingsley) designed the chip, which allows Gabriel to instantly run facial recognition scans on anyone he meets, to interface with just about any existing database, and a nifty little trick called cyber-rendering, which allows Gabriel to “create a virtual snapshot of an event in my mind and then walk through it.”
Riley Neal (Meghan Ory) is the agent charged with protecting Gabriel. Before being recruited for project Clockwork, Riley had been serving as a member of the president’s Secret Service detail. She had even saved the chief executive’s daughters from being kidnapped. She was stabbed multiple times yet still managed to single-handedly subdue four assailants. Riley’s not happy with her new job, insisting that the president’s life is more important than Gabriel’s. Unfortunately, “he didn’t think so,” Lillian explained of the president, who approved Riley’s transfer.
As expected, the pilot set up the show’s basic premise and established the characters and their relationships. Its one-hour run time, however, left little time for any true character or plot development. This particular problem isn’t an issue unique to “Intelligence”; it’s more of an industry-wide failing. Two-hour pilots were once the standard way of introducing new series, and “Intelligence” is a program that would have benefited greatly from a more long-form introduction.
As it stands, we learned next to nothing about either Gabriel or Riley before they were thrust together. Gabriel’s backstory, and in particular the circumstances that led to him becoming the government’s most valuable asset against terrorism, would have greatly enhanced the pilot. Sure, we’ll learn more about these characters in future episodes, but a good origin story upfront could very well have made the difference as to whether “Intelligence” remains on the air long enough for other revelations to surface.
Which brings us to perhaps the most significant flaw with “Intelligence,” and that is the tragic miscasting of Holloway as the lead. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Holloway. I thought he was one of the strengths of “Lost,” and was underutilized in the role of Sawyer. I’m surprised it’s taken him this long to land his own TV series. Now that he has, I’m only sorry that it’s “Intelligence.” Holloway possesses that rugged, outdoorsman appeal, which served him well on “Lost.” He’d be perfect to headline a “MacGyver” reboot.
But the role of Gabriel poses other challenges. Based on the background established for Gabriel by series creator Michael Seitzman, Holloway fits the bill. But again, thanks to a one-hour pilot, we never get to see that Gabriel. We never see the elite Delta Force commando, the hero. Rather, we’re introduced to a post-chip Gabriel, the walking hard drive. With all the information of the world at his fingertips, the character would work much better in the hands of an actor able to convey heightened intellect over brawn. An attempt is made to explain all this away by revealing that the microchip will only work on a candidate who possesses an extremely rare genetic mutation. “Gabriel was a gift,” offers Dr. Cassidy.
Other inconsistencies also rear up. At one point in the pilot, Gabriel and Riley are involved in a shootout in Chinatown. Riley takes a bullet and is soon out of action, leaving Gabriel to hold their position. But he has to wait for a satellite to come into range before downloading the needed app to effectively combat their heavily armed adversaries. Problem is, these guys are only 20 or 30 yards away. If Gabriel had been the celebrated commando he was made out to be, he should have already possessed the required skills to take them on.
The Clockwork team has other problems to contend with as well. Gabriel, for instance, has a personal agenda that often trumps his responsibility to thwart evil — the search for his MIA wife, Amelia. She was a CIA agent who may have turned. No one knows because she went off the grid five years earlier after taking part in an attack she had been assigned to prevent. Gabriel believes she’s still out there, somewhere off the grid, and therefore beyond his abilities to track her.
Oh, and then there’s the issue of the “other” microchip. Yes, it seems Dr. Cassidy managed to create a second ultimate superweapon in his spare time and it’s fallen into enemy hands. More specifically, it’s been implanted into the brain of a second recipient. The agents of Clockwork certainly have their work cut out for them.
But if you ask me, Gabriel’s first priority will soon involve hacking into the A.C. Nielsen Co.