Minority Report and Blindspot both debuted their pilot episodes recently, with both shows relying heavily on a mysterious in-world phenomena that lets the characters know aspects of the future before it happens. Minority Report, set as a sequel to the Tom Cruise-starring 2002 film of the same name, features one of the trio of ‘precogs’ returning to the city and wanting to help prevent the murders that he sees, but the visions he receives on his own never allow him to get to the victim in time to do more than watch. Blindspot introduces us to a ‘Jane Doe’ who has had her memory almost completely erased, but is covered head to toe in intricate tattoos. The FBI team managing her case quickly discover that the tattoos provide information on where and when crimes will be committed that the FBI would be invested in solving.
Outside of the common framework of providing the central characters with pieces of the future to act on in the hopes of preventing something bad from happening, both shows share another feature: they’re set up as fairly standard crime procedurals. There will be a crime every week that they’ll need to prevent, and for some reason standard law enforcement procedures will consistently prove inadequate to meeting that challenge.
Both shows also seem to have some kind of ongoing mystery that intend (supposedly) to slowly unravel over time. For Minority Report, the closing scene of the pilot shows the other two ‘precogs’ discussing a vision one of them had, where the trio are once again taken by the government by force to serve some unknown end. For Blindspot, the origin of Jane Doe’s tattoos, as well as the character’s own origin ,since she appears to have been a highly trained special forces operator, will provide the same essential mystery.
After one episode each, I’m nearly bored to tears at the idea of knowing scraps of the future.
For starters, neither show is doing anything particularly new or interesting here. As I’ve already stated, Minority Report is set in the same world as the film, so there isn’t really any new ground to tread there. Substitute Jane Doe’s tattoos and apparently high level of training for ‘expert knowledge of everything’ and Blindspot becomes the 2002 series John Doe, which only lasted for a single season.
On top of that, we have an abundance of crime procedurals on television these days. Some have been running for more than a decade. NCIS started back in 2003, as a spinoff from JAG, which started in 1996. Law and Order, or some show with those words in the title, seem to have been on television since the beginning of time. And then there are the various CSI: Random Location series. We have an abundance of this kind of show and none of them really interest me. Usually this is because the crime-of-the-week is the priority over telling any kind of ongoing story about the characters we see every week.
This is one of the reasons that Person of Interest is one of my favorite shows on TV right now. It started out very much the same way, being set up as a crime procedural with tidbits of information about the future. But as the show has progressed, we’re at the point now where while there is still generally a crime of the week to be solved, the last two seasons (and hopefully the upcoming fifth season) have focused much more heavily on the story of The Machine that provides the information to prevent those crimes. The story of an Artificial Intelligence that watches everyone, all the time, and correctly predicts not only potential terrorist threats before they take action, but also normal premeditated crimes, opens up a lot of questions for a writer beyond “how do we solve the next crime?” And to the credit of the show runners, Person of Interest is now taking the time to address those kinds of questions head on. Because that story is significantly more interesting than saving yet another random person/famous guest star week after week.
That’s what worries me about both Minority Report and Blindspot. The criminal case of the week, for both shows, was rather uninspired. And since both shows are dealing sources of information outside of the ordinary, neither show will feel much of a need to depict any kind of real police work. Meanwhile, the story I actually care about, that is interesting, will (at best) be doled out in tiny doses here and there.
As bad as it is to say, I don’t care about the crimes being committed each week in these shows. I care (or at least, the show hopes that I care) about the characters we’re going to see every week. That’s the people investigating the crimes, not the victims.
For Blindspot, I care about Jane. So I want to know where the tattoos came from, why her memory was erased, who trained her. There appears to be an entire conspiracy behind what happened to her.
For Minority Report, I care about Dash, the naive precog that just wants to help save people, and how there appears to be a looming threat to once again abuse him and his siblings for their abilities. But watching Dash clumsily make his way from crime to crime, with a cop in tow, trying to stop the next murder before it happens, sounds repetitive and boring.
For either of these shows to keep me coming back, they need to change gears fairly quickly, and ditch the crime-of-the-week format. I don’t care about it. At all. Tell me the story about the mystery that’s been set up in the first episode.
This is the point where I ironically point out that I’m going to predict the future, in a blog post that talks about how knowing the future is boring.
In all honesty, I don’t see either of these shows lasting long. As I mentioned, Blindspot seems like someone wanted to take a second stab at John Doe, which only got a single season. Jaime Alexander does amazing work as Jane Doe and I’m tempted to keep coming back just to see her portrayal of this incredibly damaged yet mysteriously competent character. But I don’t want to have to slog through weeks of ‘our next case’ to see anything more develop from it.
Minority Report is airing on Fox, which has a reputation for killing even beloved science fiction shows (Dollhouse, Terminator:The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and of course Firefly), because (one assumes) that the executives just don’t know what to do with the show once they have it. And so far Minority Report is not as good as any of those shows were. I like the concept more than Blindspot‘s, since there’s infinitely more information that a psychic can ultimately provide than a tattoo’d body can, but the cast, writing, and execution of the show are a lot weaker than Blindspot.
So tell a coherent story this season. Focus on unraveling the mystery that’s been set up, and give it a satisfying conclusion. If you get a second season, that’s great, I’m sure you can find ways to tell a new story with the same characters next year. But don’t try to drag out this mystery for as long as possible. Do you know what happens when you do that? The show gets cancelled and I, as a member of your target audience, am left without ever sense of resolution. And I hate that.