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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.