TV Review: Persons Unknown 2.0, aka, So Now What?

THIS REVIEW OF THE TV SHOW “PERSONS UNKNOWN” CONTAINS SPOILERS. DO NOT READ ON UNLESS YOU’VE ALREADY SEEN THE SHOW THROUGH EPISODE 1.06, “THE TRUTH”. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Persons Unknown TV Series

So we’re at the halfway point (give or take) of NBC’s mystery show “Persons Unknown”, and one thing is clear — even 13 episodes is going to be a stretch to keep this thing going, so it’s a good thing the producers and the network didn’t decide to go with an ongoing series. (That, we’re told, could still change if the show proves to be a hit, though that’s looking mighty slim right now given the show’s horrid ratings.) The premise remains intriguing, but if the many fillers and seemingly unnecessary plot strands are any indication (the back-and-forth-and-back-again with the reporter, anyone?), there’s just not here to fill an entire season of shows, much less two.

Another clue that NBC doesn’t really have much faith in the show, or indeed has inclinations to invest more into it, is the show suddenly jumping from Monday nights to Saturday nights. So if you were watching the show two weeks ago on Monday and came back 7 days later, you saw one of NBC’s Godawful reality TV shows instead. I don’t even remember which one, but the networks are full of them in the Summer. The truth is, NBC has moved the show to Saturdays and just didn’t bother to tell a lot of people about it. Fortunately my DVR doesn’t need official announcements, and picked up the new scheduling automatically.

Chadwick Boseman, Daisy Betts, Tina Holms, and Jason Wiles in Persons Unknown TV Series

The biggest progress on the show so far both involve true identities:

Reporter Mark Renbe (Gerald Kyd) was revealed to be Janet’s no-good ex-husband. Unfortunately, the lead-up to the reveal was so poorly thought out that when a picture of Janet and Renbe appeared onscreen, I was sure the bad guys had simply (and amateurishly, natch) photoshopped their pictures together in order to frame Renbe. As it turns out, not so much, though you’d be hardpressed to believe the sudden reveal since Gerald Kyd does such a poor job at showing any sort of commitment to the character arc. Maybe it’s not even his fault, since it’s almost as if the writers decided on making Renbe Janet’s ex at the very last moment, but didn’t bother to change Renbe’s character to reflect it in later (and already written) episodes. Oh, he continues to provide lip service to his relationship to Janet, but it’s just not very convincing whatsoever.

The other big reveal happened last week – Joe (Jason Wiles) was revealed to be working with the captors all along, although he seems to be having serious second thoughts. Then again, as with Renbe’s reveal, the lead-up to Joe’s true identity was so poorly thought out that it feels completely ridiculous. Of all the captives, Joe has been the most mysterious, refusing to even give up his last name. He’s also been incredibly overt about having hidden motives, which begs the question: is Joe the worst mole in the history of TV moles or what? You’d think he would have a completely believable backstory like the rest of the captives from day one in order to deflect from his moleness. The point is, Joe is such an obvious candidate for being a mole that to actually turn him into one screams of lazy writing.

Lola Glaudini and Gerald Kyd in Persons Unknown TV Series

With party girl (and fetching eye candy) Tori (Kate Lang Johnson) gone, the show has introduced a new captive in Erika, a (supposedly) badass death row inmate played by “Battlestar Galactica’s” Kandyse McClure. The character is interesting and provides a healthy dose of danger to what was quickly becoming a stale show, but the casting of McClure in the role borders on the absurd. The fact that McClure is barely 5-feet tall doesn’t help matters. Erika is supposed to be a dangerous wild card, inserted into the town to turn everything on its head. She viciously attacks her fellow captives, growls threats, and makes it pretty well known that she’s itching to get into Janet’s pants.

All fine and well (and actually very welcome), but why in the world did the producers cast such a short actress in the role? McClure does her best, swaggering to and fro and sneering constantly, but it’s all so affected as to ring completely false. While it was amusing watching the diminutive Erika racing around town holding up her baggy pants and taking down loudmouth Bill (Sean O’Bryan), watching her doing her “prison killer” bit for two full episodes is downright hilarious. Watching her intimidate everyone, including Joe, who has just demonstrated wicked fighting abilities in a previous episode, borders on the absurd. Just hold out your arm, put your hand on her head, and she’ll never be able to touch you. See? Easy.

Jason Wiles and Kandyse McClure in Persons Unknown TV Series Image

The sad thing is, I had high hopes for the show when it originally aired. The pilot left me wanting more, but the more I saw, the more I realized how poorly written and plotted “Persons Unknown” has become, and seems to have been from the very start. Having basically used up every filler material they could with Renbe in San Francisco, the writers have now sent him and his editor girlfriend to Italy, where they get involve with a local mob bad boy. Meanwhile, the town where the game or experiment or whatever it is is taking place continues to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s as if the writers never bothered to come up with a bible, a “here’s how things work” guide, and are now just winging it.

Here’s a question: when you know you only have 13 episodes to work with until “all is revealed” (as the promos keep telling us), shouldn’t you know exactly where you’re going and how to get there? If so, then why all the useless filler material? We’re already six episodes in, and “Persons Unknown” is still stuck trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The problem is, it’s not just the viewer and the captives who seem to be mulling that question over, it feels like the producers and writers are wondering the same thing. Unfortunately, with a whopping 7 episodes left to fill, I’m afraid things aren’t going to be getting better for a while.

Jason Wiles and Daisy Betts in Persons Unknown TV Series

On a final note, the show is already up for pre-order on Amazon.com, with an August 31, 2010 release date. There are seven episodes to go, which means if NBC airs all 7 episodes in one-hour blocks, and the show remains on Saturdays, the DVD will be out a full week before the final episode airs. One way to combat this scheduling conflict would be to return the show back on Mondays at some point. The other way is to air a two-hour finale, which would complete the 13-episode first season order the Saturday before the DVD is released the following Tuesday.


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About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • Tkmca

    If this is another “never ending story”, like Lost, then like like Lost, in the rest of the world outside America, they just lost me.

  • anonymous

    I thought this article was supposed to have spoilers. It's actually just a review of the first 6 episodes, and a few paragraphs at the end telling me why the show sucks. I personally am really intrigued by the show, and instead of thinking most of what's in the show “useless filler material”, I think it's trying to keep us guessing considering it is a mystery…besides, we do know more about who is behind the cameras, so maybe the writers and producers do know exactly where the show is going.

  • P's Unknown FAN

    Ok, so I must be a dolt, because I really am intrigued by the show and hate it when the episode is over. I'm really gonna hate it when the last one airs. I forgot the title and had to try to search for it on the web, just by describing the plot. I was overjoyed when I found it and caught myself up watching the ones I missed until 2 a.m. Call me some kind of simpleton, but I really enjoy it and it's too bad the reviewer thinks it's junk. It's NOT. Please keep going on this. It's very interesting. And I don't think the acting is bad, either.

  • writer

    This show is barely watchable I knew this going in and like a bad car accident I can't stop watching. Its only saving grace is Kandyse McClure. Her appearance makes this accident of a show palatable. My only question is why haven't any of them asked each other what they have in common, what skills do they possess etc. you know the basics to any movie or show possessing a similiar scenario. why don't they create a hot air balloon and fly over the “electic Gate”? Please somebody cancel this show before one hour dramas and half hour comedies become even more brain dead than they already are. Its sad enough that here we are in the Summer season and the movies that are passing for action flicks have no plot whatsoever. I don't know if they are purposely insulting my intelligience or if they are getting paid to dumb down the script. Man they're not even trying anymore. I guess if I'm looking for a good script I'll have to contact pixar.

  • Gravityplease

    I also am a fan of the show and any night it is on , I am glued to the tv

  • Biomech

    Completely agree with the review and with “Writer” – such a fresh original idea for a potentially epic show… I was drooling in anticipation after the first ep..unfortunately each subsequent episode fails to deliver on almost every level! Seriously LAZY writing and more plot holes than a block of swiss cheese. I honestly wonder how they managed to stuff it up soooo badlly! Now 9 episodes in and it's gone from mysterious and intruiging to ANNOYING! and let's face it I've seen games of chess with more pace than this! .. never ceases to amaze me how they kill off quality shows way before their tiime yet 90% of new shows coming out simply fail to get off the ground!

  • Ricomu

    This was pretty much my thought process while watching (I realize I’m late to the party, but I just finished the show). The first few episodes left me intrigued but, as the show progressed, I noticed how lazy the writing was… there were so many plot points the made no sense at all [SPOILERS AHEAD].

    For example, when the director lady (who, by the way, has some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard) tells Liam that the town is being flushed and the cameras switch between towns trying to make us think our beloved cast is dead… Why would she be telling Liam that another town was being wiped out? She wouldn’t. At least not without some specificity. She would tell the “night manager” of the town it affected.

    Things like this, the terrible dialogue, and the horrible reasoning to move the plot in odd directions makes me upset. Such a great premise (and I wasn’t upset with the camera work either) ruined by such horrible execution. Around episode 6 or 7 I felt like the series turned into a mockbuster.

    That said, I would mind seeing a reboot with some talented writers and a better plot. And please, stop making every character upset about “what happened to us,” when the only really traumatic experience was the gas scenario (and maybe being kidnapped).