What if you remade Chuck, but with absolutely no sense of humor? What if the only direction you gave actors was to scowl more? What if you threw in hilarious non-jargon like “cyber-rendering” and acted like it made a show seem cool and futuristic? What if I told you this show had already been built?
Here comes Intelligence, CBS’s latest procedural, which debuts tonight at 9 p.m. It’s scheduled as a miniseries, taking over Hostages’ spot starting on Monday, but it plays like every other tech-tinged procedural that seems to run in perpetuity. Lost’s Josh Holloway stars as a high-level intelligence operative who has a microchip implanted in his brain — so instead of using a computer or his phone or Google Glass or something, he can just call up that information right from his brain. Is it much faster? Certainly not! It is perhaps more convenient, but he still has to explain out loud to his co-workers what he’s doing. “Let’s see, there are two models of white vans that fit that description, and only five are in this city … and only one is registered to a suspect. Bingo!” It’s a scene that has played out on infinity episodes of Law & Order, with cops crowded around a computer as one person puts search criteria into a database. On Intelligence, Holloway simply narrates this process. If possible, it is more boring this way.
Because this is television and America, Holloway’s Gabriel is of course flanked by women doomed to begrudgingly appreciate his roguish ways. CSI alum Marg Helgenberger plays his put-upon boss (do things her way, or don’t do ‘em at all) and Once Upon a Time’s Meghan Ory plays his young, tough new partner, who has to protect him. (Would you believe she has a dark past? Well, she does.) Gabriel is of course a tremendous asset to the American intelligence-gathering world, but his unique skills also make him a target. The doctor who created the chip that’s implanted? He’s a target too. Everyone’s a target! Such is the high-stakes world of Intelligence. Punch punch punch, shoot shoot shoot, computer computer computer. [Fin.]
Let’s just call Intelligence competently made. It’s fine. There’s a guy, he’s like a Robocop, his wife is a spy who maybe got turned — it’s all perfectly sound on a functional level. It’s just fundamentally impossible to care about. He’s a super-spy weapon for the United States of America! So? The guy who made his brain chip is like a father to him! O…kay. He might be able to think like a computer, but he has feelings like a human being! Right. I know. It just don’t matter. Sci-fi twists should tell us something about the moral conditions of the universe. So he has a chip in his brain. Is that good? Or bad? Does that represent anything grander? There’s no “so what” to Intelligence, no interesting or unexpected consequences. It doesn’t even have the decency to be snappy or charming. The most notable aspect of the show is how fully it has embraced the current trend of full eyebrows on both its male and female characters.
CBS has eleven hour-long scripted dramas airing now. Ten of them, including Intelligence, are cop shows; the eleventh is The Good Wife, which is a lawyer show. It’s going to take a lot more than being really good at using the Internet to stand out.