We gave it a C-
To call a TV series “cinematic” — as one might other transmuted movies like Hannibal or Fargo — generally translates as something like “Wow, this show looks surprisingly good!” Even all these years into its medium’s “Golden Age,” network TV often forgets the “V” part of its name, using plot and dialogue as the load-bearing columns of storytelling and leaving the visual elements for the movies.
Historically it makes sense: Television wasn’t replacing cinema in its earliest years, despite Hollywood’s fears, it was taking the spot of the radio as the new hearth in the American home. Plenty of early shows — like Dragnet and Gunsmoke — began as sound-only serials before they added images to their repertoire, and even a half-century later, visual elements continue to be merely value-added for a large swath of programming. If you’re unconvinced, next time you’re watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory or The Blacklist, close your eyes and try to follow along. Or, better yet, just keep looking at your phone or folding your laundry. I guarantee your won’t miss much.
This is all to say that Fox’s new series, Minority Report, belongs far more to that tradition than to the one that produced the 2001 film that it’s based on. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novel about a world in which violent crime is prevented before it’s ever given a chance to occur might have packed a lot of sausage into its sci-fi thriller casing — elegant action filmmaking, ethics experiments, straight-up slapstick, a believable vision of the future replete with self-driving cars and proto-smartphone swiping — but it was also a self-contained story. The TV version, which follows one of the film’s three crime-predicting precogs Dash (Stark Sands) as he teams up to solve crimes with D.C. homicide detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good), is built for stability and not much more. It might as well be called Law & Order: Future Victims Unit.
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Set 10 years after events of the film and the abolishment of the PreCrime program, the pilot pulls heavily from the film only in terms of particulars. If “cinematic” is a compliment, then “networky” is probably its corresponding pejorative, and Minority Report is networky to the extreme. Bland heroics, banter with all the snap of wilted celery, characters that are the sum of three adjectives and are so effortfully congenial you can practically see the studio exec’s red ink on their foreheads reading “More likable,” and, of course, that odd pro-authoritarian bent that most cop procedurals (except maybe Person of Interest) end up adopting.
This last element is especially disconcerting considering the fact that much of the point of the show’s source material is the moral pretzels it forces itself into, quandaries that are only perfunctorily addressed here and then swept aside. After all, it’s hard to go through a case a week if you’re constantly fretting whether your methodology is an ethical non-starter.
Jokes involving the inevitable historicizing of modern day pop culture references abound (The Simpsons, Tinder, and Iggy Azalea all get name-checked), but there’s little about Minority Report’s future that feels lived-in or real. All of this isn’t to rag on network procedurals, by the way. There’s a craftsmanship to a lot of them that can be appreciated, that’s even visible in bits and pieces on this show. It’s just that when a formula is so well-used and so well-known, adhering to it can get a little too, well, predictable.