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Stupid Enough to Not Be Its Own Legal Guardian: 'Intelligence' Review

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | TV Reviews | January 9, 2014 | Comments ()


intelligenceshow.jpg

I suppose they could have just called the show Goldfish because it’s as much about the little ten cent fish that die if you look at them wrong as it is about anything remotely connected to the word Intelligence. And I also could make the joke that the series will probably last as long as the aforementioned lifespan-challenged fish, but let’s face it, it’s on CBS with NCIS as a lead in so the pilot landed over 16 million viewers. So it’ll probably run for eleven seasons.

Cobbling together actors from other shows, we’ve got Josh Holloway (did he always look and act exactly like Aaron Eckhart? Must be the haircut) from Lost, Marg Helgenberger from CSI, and Meghan Ory from basically every other show on television.

Naturally, Holloway’s character (I’m not looking up the names of these pointless characters, so we’ll just go with Shorn Sawyer) is the best at everything. Tier 1 Delta Force! And Ory, she was the bestest Secret Service agent ever! She saved the president’s kids with a stick of gum and sardonic wit! And her back story is that she killed her step-father for raping her throughout her teenage years! Oh, um.

Come on CBS, I know you wanted a third act reveal of what it was she was hiding about her past in order to cement the budding trust between the two leads, but dude, really? You went there? For thirty seconds of the pilot right before the final silly shoot out? I’m sure as a CBS procedural, they will thoughtfully and tastefully explore the abuse in the heroine’s past over the course of the season. Ha! You’ll never hear about it again except at random points when they bring it up because the writers are too lazy to think of a different way to crassly manipulate the audience.

And now what am I supposed to call the character? Because any clever nickname I give her will be colored by this and make me look like the ass. Well, anonymous terrible television writer, no one makes me look like an ass but me, so I’m just going to call her Manny, which is short for Manipulative Plot Device.

Anyway, Shorn Sawyer has a government microchip in his head. It magically hooks him up to electronic stuff. So he pieces together all the random digital noise and recordings from various sources and gets to magically knows things and see things. So, he’s basically got a Google Glass prototype embedded in his skull.

This is the sort of thing that would have really interesting societal implications. Instead they make it magically able to automatically hack and download everything from everything electronic. That’s dumb. There’s not even a need to parse it out or mock it, it’s just face value stupid and lazy writing. It’s not even what technically illiterate people think about technology, it’s what technically illiterate television writers think that stupid people think about technology. It’s Dumbception.

It could have just been called Enhance! The Series, because it takes the infuriating lack of any comprehension of technology that procedurals have enshrined in their constant requests to “enhance” photographs in order to magically make them have more data than is there, and builds an entire show around applying that logic to everything. At one point, Shorn Sawyer reconstructs in his fancy head an abduction, and notes that the abductee does not have a look of fear, but of recognition on his face, which he then uses to interpolate that the bad guy must be someone in particular he knows. Except as Manny points out, the camera couldn’t see the abductee’s face, so how can Shorn Sawyer have seen it? Oh yeah, his brain fills in the gaps.

WITH WHAT? I scream at the television. You have to have data to fill in the holes in the data. A picture of the back of a guy’s head does not tell you the expression on his face. You want a show about a psychic, go for it, but quit stapling “science” onto this crap and trying to pass it off as an imaginative exploration of the implications of technology.

The show veers wildly between his abilities being things that are just magic handwaved as science, and things that would be much more efficiently done with a dude on a laptop than with some guy and a billion dollar chip in his head. Seriously, he taps into data with his brain. That’s not a superpower, that’s a laptop. And if you can make a chip to magically hack into every data source within a hundred miles and integrate it into something useful, then um, you could plug it into a computer and have fifty guys working the data instead of relying on what Shorn Sawyer sees inside his mind fortress.

I’m beyond exhausted of the complete inability of television shows to understand technology in the slightest. I don’t even mean on the technobabble level, I mean on the fundamental level of what technology is. Technology is not a golden bauble, it’s the ability to build golden baubles. The entire plot of this pilot revolved around a magic computer chip stuck inside the protagonist’s head. There are exactly two of them in the entire world.

Gosh, that’s useful.

The bad guys try to steal said chip. Note, that they do not try to steal the plans for it. Because that would involve understanding technology. Instead, they kidnap the head scientist who built the chip for the sole purpose of having him implant it in a new person. Instead of, I don’t know, having him build them more of the goddamned chips.

I know, I know, it’s like the six zillion dollar man, the parts are totes expensive, right? Except that there was a second chip that the designer built in his garage after retiring. So the show’s own story directly contradicts the notion that this magic chip is built of some billions of dollars of rare plot elements.

Look, give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, and he’ll commit piscine genocide. Why is this such a difficult concept for script writers to understand? Stealing an object is a pissant bit of amateur hour compared to stealing the ability to build said object.

Part of the problem is that the ability to create a thing that is fantastic changes everything. The thing itself does very little. But lazy storytellers prefer to deal with the thing itself, because that allows them to not bother with the creativity necessary to imagine a changed world.

See, the atomic bomb in itself does not change the world, nor does the mushroom cloud or two from the first of them. It’s the ability to build thousands of them that changed everything we knew about war and international relations. That’s what technology does, it transforms the world by changing what we can do.

Writers, especially for television series, love to come up with gorgeous technical toys with all sorts of superpowers. And then they invent infinite reasons why the serum/chip/mutation/device/McGuffin is a one-time thing that can never be duplicated ever, as if it was handed to us by some trollop in a lake instead of by dint of people figuring out how things work.

That’s the difference between science fiction and playing with the trappings of science fiction. The former has the balls to actually deal with how the world changes when we can do different things, while the latter cowers from such imagination and focuses instead on the implications of one single item.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Dominic

    Let's up the level a bit on this . Most likely CBS is just trying to catch up to other networks , in having a mutant or mutants in a show . FOX = Almost Human NBC has that Friday show , and some Freaky Characters in Revolution . CW = vampires , werewolvers , witches , and teleporters ..ABC = Agents Of Shield and those guys are catching mutants half the time ..where to start ? with HBO and Showtime and THEIR extra-special characters ....
    I guess for the " mature " CBS audience , he had to be a cop and not a troublemaker .. It's only going to be as good as its supporting cast , and how they are written ... which is why they begged Helgenberger and Ory ....

  • J and KC

    The author was being kind. It's a lot worse than that.

  • muscleman

    But, don't you realize that on some future episode, shorn sawyer might walk around without his shirt on and god knows, I love to watch him walk away from the camera.
    It's the same reason I watch NCIS-LA, just to see the cute white dudes eyes and watch him walk away on the screen.
    Who cares about the plot.....

  • emmalita

    That is what tumblr is for, giving you the gifs without making you watch the show.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I hate to admit it, but your outrage so closely mirrors mine that I may have a chubby after reading this rant. Bravo, SLW.

  • babykangarootribbiani

    i liked this premise the first time they did it... on NBC... on a little show called "Chuck". Now, not so much.

  • kinoumenthe

    Go watch Person of Interest instead.
    It does right all those things: the fantastic thingamuffin, the changed world, the possible duplication, the world building and so much more.
    I really drives me crazy that people on Pajiba that pretend to be fan of "real" SF are ignoring the best one on tv right now. That's just mind boggling. Just because it's not on the right channel and was heavily publicised as a procedural, while actually evolving pretty early on toward a serial. It is so friggin good. You have no idea. Which IS the problem.
    *wail* GO waaaatch iiiiiiiiiiiit. *flail*

    Sentient AI(s ?), people ! How CAN you ignore it ?
    I can't even.

  • Seriously. Last night Person of Interest ran the best episode of just about any show ever, and it's been riding this high for the last twelve episodes, and you review THIS SHOW?

    I swear you people hate television.

  • Semilitterate

    And now in the post Snowden revelation world, we can see how prescient POI is. C'mon Pajiba, there is more to the entertainment world than Hobbits, werewolves and vampires. Check this show out.

    As for Lack of "intelligence" I even deferred Justified to the 2nd running so my wife could watch this atrocity. (Thank you FX, for this practice) She is a big fan of NCIS, so she wanted to see Intelligence. You married guys knw how this works, right? She has agreed to forgo the pleasure(?) in the future.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    This was a very entertaining review of a show I would never feel compelled to watch.

  • seth

    When Sawyer and inanimate brunette were abducted why couldn't his headputer have sent an email? Or a fax? Doesn't it have GPS?

  • elsie_the_first

    Do you remember the show that was on a while back about the lady cop with the eidetic memory? I watched 2, maybe 3, episodes before I just could not take it anymore. She would be in the middle of investigating a crime and then retreat into her 360 degree panoramic view of her memory to notice some ridiculous little detail that would end up solving the crime. I don't have much of a memory at all, much less an eidetic memory. But I just don't believe for a minute that that's how it works. I'm pretty sure that you would actually have to look at something to actually remember it. And unless she was constantly looking at every imaginable detail available while walking down the street, there would be no way she would be able to recreate an absolutely perfect recreation of a given moment of time in her head.

    Anyway, this show sounds way worse than that.

  • Dominic

    apparently you didn't watch 60 Minutes Sunday or you would have seen the HOUR-long story by Leslie Stahl on people that can do EXACTLY what you think they couldn't ....and one is a 8-yr-old kid ....
    the eye sees more than our conscious brain records ,or focuses on . These people see and record it all , and then can "re-image" it in their head . Forever . In computer terms their(ours too ) HD is always recording and they are talented enough to access any spot on the disk easily.. And don't wipe their disks clean of data ....
    the TV show was based on an actress with this ability , not a detective . They just wrote the character as a crime solver.. I never watched it prob did suck , but some can do this ...Me I can't remember the names of any of the 5 LesLey brought on ( actress included Lesley did a segment on her last yea )r

  • DeaconG

    Unforgettable...which was eminently forgettable.

  • lowercase_see

    Good god, I love it when you hate things.

  • Rob

    Bravo, my good man. I love this.

  • rn3

    didn't we have this show already? only funnier and called Chuck?

  • Anitra Larae

    This is Chuck if they'd cast Captain Awesome as the lead.

  • pcloadletter

    Holloway's character's name is - I am not making this up - Gabriel Black.

  • Thank you for this. I was wondering if I missed anything by failing to catch the pilot, but now I know I can fail to watch the whole show and not miss out at all. They could have done so much with this idea, but I suppose it's too much to ask for actual world-building in a CBS procedural.

  • Mrs. Julien

    This review is a joysome thing, full of sound and fury signifying exasperation.

  • TK

    That’s what technology does, it transforms the world by changing what we can do.

    This. Jesus fucking Christ, THIS is what most movies and TV shows fail to comprehend.

  • TK
  • BlackRabbit

    No no no, it's "watery tart" not "trollop".

  • She knows what she is.

  • lurkette

    "he’ll commit piscine genocide"

    **snort**

  • kinoumenthe

    In my language, that means somebody killed all the swimming pools… Which is sort of sad.

  • Semilitterate

    Why just last night I saw a swimming pool die of gunshot wounds

  • emmalita

    But it died beautifully and was deeply mourned.

  • DataAngel

    Technology is not a golden bauble, it’s the ability to build golden baubles.

    I really like this.

    Except as Manny points out, the camera couldn’t see the abductee’s face, so how can Shorn Sawyer have seen it? Oh yeah, his brain fills in the gaps.

    They couldn't have gone with the whole "based on posture, body language, blah blah blah"? Jeebus. That's not just lazy writing, that's sh!tty, lazy writing. That's lazy writing that's too lazy to actually be lazy.

  • "Piscine Genocide" has supplanted "Vax Parents" as my 2014 Fantasy Football team name. Nicely done.

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