J.J. Abrams. Michael Emerson. James Caviezel. CBS’s “Person of Interest” is very obviously sold by the involvement of these three very interesting people, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on one TV trifecta. Abrams’s latest small-screen venture since the failed “Undercovers” is part sci-fi mystery and part crime thriller, with just the right dash of physical violence. Yes, it still sounds cooler than it actually is.

Person of Interest

Pilot
Thursdays at 9 p.m.
CBS


The pilot opens with a flashback to Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”) and a woman in apparent romantic bliss. Since romance is not one of the aforementioned genres the show was pitched as, it’s a move out of left field, and it feels wrong. The flashbacks continue periodically throughout the episode — it’s the first of many similarities to “Lost” that cannot go unnoticed.

After that first nauseating love scene is when things actually heat up. We catch up with Caviezel’s John Reese on a subway in New York, looking as miserable and bedraggled as Jack Shephard circa 2007 (with an even more boast-worthy beard). He’s approached by a gang of bad actors — er, thugs — and despite the fact that he looks like a zombie, he has the reflexes of a ninja, and kicks all five of their asses with the ease of a Bollywood hero.

The only information given about Reese in the pilot is that he used to work for the government and that he was exploited, resulting in the death of the unidentified woman he loved. It’s more than a tad frustrating to have only two real main characters on a show and know almost nothing about either of them.

Reese is quickly named a person of interest by the police because of his assault on the five men on the subway. He’s supposed to be the same to the audience: a titillating enigma that we can’t wait to have explained.

That’s all fine and well, but it doesn’t account for the fact that Caviezel is acting with Michael Emerson, who is as wily and captivating as ever and commands the screen. Though his performance is as brilliant as it was on “Lost,” there’s nothing original about it. He’s essentially playing Benjamin Linus in cold weather with a new list of names and a different tormented protégé to manipulate into doing his bidding. What a weirdly specific acting niche.

That list of names comes from a “machine” created by Emerson’s character, Mr. Finch. He speaks of it with the same reverence and hint of fear used to describe Jacob and the “magic box” on “Lost.” Instead of spitting out the names of prospective island protectors, this contraption generates lists of social security numbers corresponding to victims of future crimes. “The numbers never stop coming,” Finch tells Reese. “You should know that by now.” Add to the pile of “Lost” references.

Finch recruits Reese to prevent these potential crimes. The machine also has security cameras set up all over the world, and every few scenes we glimpse their choppy footage. Stylistic or not, it’s utterly unaesthetic and is unexplained and intrusive for most of the episode.

“Person of Interest” is carried by its acting, but the plot is a heavy burden to bear. It’s appropriately ambitious, but the pilot doesn’t warrant a significant investment in the characters. Suspense does not equal a complete lack of information. For the show to have staying power beyond the magic of Michael Emerson, the writers will have to start sharing more about the total strangers inhabiting the screen. That’s what made “Lost” work, so why not?

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