CBS has a reputation for being very selective with new shows. As opposed to, for example, ABC, which has a reputation for something more like a shotgun approach in contrast to CBS‘s sniper rifle. That makes Intelligence even more curious, because it has such an ABC feel to it, and kicks off so poorly.
Along with CBS‘s penchant toward less new shows in any given year, hopefully of the highest quality, they also have a history of choosing shows that know how to deliver a pilot. Establishment is the trickiest effort of any show, but even the worst CBS offerings of the last decade or so have managed good hooks. That’s almost true here, but only if you’re talking about the show’s first five minutes… which are pretty good.
The most basic description of the show’s plot provides an interesting theory. Josh Holloway, playing Gabriel Vaughn, is a soldier who has become the guinea pig of a top secret project, and as such has had a “chip” (because this is a technological explanation the masses might wrap their own heads around) implanted in his brain that grants him direct access to the internet, WiFi, etc. Thus, he is sent into missions with distinct advantages. If it were possible to stop right there, Intelligence clearly has the potential to be developed into something incredibly interesting.
We went a different way.
In the first moments of the show we are introduced to Riley Neal (Meghan Ory). She’s in the Secret Service, and she has showed up at the double-secret headquarters of whoever allegedly runs such secret things, and she’s here to get a job offer. This gives us a nice opportunity to run through the project’s history, as she herself is introduced to what her job will be. Turns out, her job is to be Gabriel’s bodyguard. Much as we are quickly given Gabriel’s background, we also have Riley’s handed to us in distinctly “please suspend all possible disbelief” terms.
Thus, Gabriel, among the most elite ranks of soldier to begin with, is now armed with the world’s most advanced technology, but it doesn’t seem odd to anyone to suggest that what he’s really lacking is a 120-pound, female bodyguard. This is what’s known in the business as the receivers of the initial pitch responding with, “work a hot chick into things.”
We also throw Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger) into the mix as the head the secret government agency in charge of Gabriel. Much in the way that our science is managed by way of a chip with a couple of blinking lights (because you know it’s something cool if it’s shiny), Strand runs her agents and organization with no effort toward making a believable, realistic character, but one who has certain lines to say based on where we need to end up in the next scene.
For our opening gambit, we fantastically find ourselves chasing kidnappers, and who else for our kidnap victim but the creator of the chip floating around in Gabriel’s brain. Worse, it seems he’s been kidnapped by Chinese operatives. But, why kidnap him? What use can he be? He can’t create another chip out of thin air, and all the information on the project is locked down elsewhere… or whatever. They don’t actually include maniacal laughter, or the twirling of mustaches in the show, and the real problem is that they actually believe that means they aren’t there.
All of this would be bad enough, but we have another wrinkle to work in. It’s a wrinkle that is meant to provide at least one long arc for the show, and also (and nonsensically) helps explain the need for Gabriel’s bodyguard. It involves Gabriel’s wife, an ex-CIA agent who was undercover, apparently flipped, and is now presumed dead. Gabriel doesn’t believe it, though he ought to be able to find her, and his unending search means that he’s even more unpredictable than usual. This is (one has to hope), the result of someone with purse strings coming back again with, “Could you shpice it up a little?”
This is all tremendously infuriating, because who doesn’t want to like this show? The worst part is that Holloway is his usual, watchable self, and you really want to get hooked by his character. Ory is equally good, though she’s trapped in a far more goofy vessel. It may even be enough to keep people around, and if the writing team can try like hell to sprint away from everything to do with the pilot, the show might even stick around for a while. Boss Strand is another matter entirely though, and needs to be completely reworked or killed off for the show to have any chance at success.
I have a feeling that if we make it through a few episodes, this bizarre throwback to the earliest, wackiest Bond films will subside, and we’ll settle into something that might give a little thought to the episodic content, and spend less time trying to work in 30 different long arc plots. Whether the show will last that long is a tough question. The answer may come in the pilot’s final moment. Once that plays out, you’ll either find yourself mildly interested in tuning in again, or you’ll laugh your head off.
INTELLIGENCE is a dramatic thriller starring Josh Holloway as a high-tech intelligence operative enhanced with a super-computer microchip in his brain. With this implant, Gabriel is the first human ever to be connected directly into the global information grid and have complete access to Internet, WiFi, telephone and satellite data. He can hack into any data center and access key intel in the fight to protect the United States from its enemies. Leading the elite government cyber-security agency created to support him is Director Lillian Strand, a straightforward and efficient boss who oversees the unit’s missions. Strand assigns Riley Neal, a Secret Service agent, to protect Gabriel from outside threats, as well as from his appetite for reckless, unpredictable behavior and disregard for protocol. Also on the team is Chris Jameson, a resourceful federal investigator. The brains behind the design of the chip is Dr. Shenendoah Cassidy, whose son, Nelson, is jealous of Gabriel’s prominent place in his father’s life. As the first supercomputer with a beating heart, Gabriel is the most valuable piece of technology the country has ever created and is the U.S.’s secret weapon.