There’s a scene in the premiere of Intelligence that tells you everything you need to know about the show. The evil Chinese guy is trying to intimidate the lovable scientist guy. “Have you ever seen a Chinese M99 Sniper Rifle?” says the villain — played by Will Yun Lee, who CBS clearly has on-call after his similar turn on Hawaii Five-O. “This is the finest weapon in the world. Pinpoint accuracy.”
You’re ready for a speech, something about how the Sniper Rifle is a metaphor for how the villain’s operation is a perfectly-run system guaranteed to stop whatever the good guys throw at them. Or maybe it’ll be a big evil speech, with the Sniper Rifle an example of how the bad guys can kill anyone, anywhere, anytime. The lovable scientist guy says: “What are you planning on doing with that thing?”
And the bad guy takes the finest weapon in the world and slams it in the lovable scientist’s face.
Intelligence is a high-concept show that constructs very elaborate reasons for people to get slammed in the face. Josh Holloway plays one of those perfect procedural protagonists. He’s actually described as “Delta Force Tier One, reckless, unpredictable, and insubordinate.” (It sounds like a videogame trilogy. Delta Force Tier One: Reckless, followed by Delta Force Tier One: Unpredictable and Delta Force Tier One: Insubordinate.) Holloway has the internet in his brain, basically, a simple idea that the show overexplains constantly. His boss — Marg Helgenberger, aggressively bored in an appealing way — maps out the concept for the audience. Holloway’s brain contains “Internet, Wi-Fi, Telephone, Satellite.”
But it’s not just that Holloway can access the internet, Chuck-style. He can actually use the internet. Early in the episode, he unlocks a computerized door without even looking at it. It’s a nifty idea which also veers close to being outright silly. At one point, Holloway picks up a signal from a digital pocket recorder at a crime scene. By way of explanation, he says: “Bluetooth.” (Delta Force: Tier One: Bluetooth.)
The pilot episode sets up Holloway with an odd-couple partner/potential love interest named Riley Neal, played by Meghan Ory. Ory is quickly set up as her own perfect procedural protagonist: She took a knife for the president’s kids and still got them home for bedtime. She also has a dark secret, which isn’t particularly dark. It usually takes awhile for the buddies in a buddy-cop show to develop their specific chemistry. The good news is that, back on Lost, Josh Holloway showed a remarkable ability to develop a spry banter-y energy with basically everyone.
The bad news is that anyone hoping that Intelligence will be Sawyer, P.I. is going to walk away from the premiere disappointed. In his Lost days, Holloway was the season 1 breakout character, a wild card and a regular dose of amorality in a show filled with mournful-eyed dudes with daddy issues. He was the constant variable, you might say: The Wolverine to Jack’s Cyclops, the Han Solo to Locke’s Luke Skywalker. On Intelligence, Holloway’s hair is cut short; he wears a constant sweater. You want him to be Scott Caan in Hawaii Five-O, but he’s Alex O’Loughlin in Hawaii Five-O.
That could change. There’s a lot of potential in Intelligence, and I’m intrigued to see what the show looks like when it doesn’t need to re-explain its central concept every two minutes. There are a few nifty scenes where Holloway generated a complete crime scene. The visuals are cool. But it feels like narrative cheating, PowerPoint crimesolving at its most offensive. “I can create a virtual snapshot of an event in my mind,” says Holloway. “It’s like a Virtual Evidence Walk.” What the hell is an evidence walk? Who still says “virtual”?