Saturday, February 11, 2012

Still Watching: "Grimm" and "Persons of Interest"

Of all the freshman series I started watching back in the fall, I'm still keeping up with two of them pretty regularly: crime procedurals "Grimm" and "Persons of Interest." As we're well into the midseason, I thought it was time for a quick update.

"Grimm" has had an interesting ride so far. It honestly hasn't gotten much better than the original pilot, which I found pretty lackluster, but it has shown that the silly premise of a supernatural cop, called a Grimm, policing the descendants of fairy-tale creatures in the Portland area has some pretty strong legs. Instead of slavishly modeling each case after a specific fairy tale, it has quickly taken the "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" approach of having the fairy-tale creatures mirror specific social ills or embody the factors that sometimes lead to crime, and slapping on a made-up German name like "blutbaden" for Big Bad Wolf creatures. So a timid man might be secretly a mouse creature, while a slimy lawyer is really a snake in disguise. The monsters-of-the-week that the writers have come up are often much more interesting than the lead characters.

On that note, I still don't think much of David Giuntoli, who plays the main character, Nick Burkhardt, or Bitsie Tulloch as his girlfriend Juliette. There has been almost no progress made regarding Nick's development as a Grimm or how that might affect his relationship with Juliette, obvious plot hooks that were set up in the pilot. Instead, the most interesting character is still Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), the reformed blutbad who reluctantly lends his help on Nick's cases. The bumpy developing friendship between Nick and Monroe, where Monroe always seems to be getting the short end of the stick, is a lot of fun. It works a heluvah lot better that Nick's partnership with his actual partner, Hank Griffin (Russell Honsby). I hope the writers find some way to give Juliette and Hank more to do on a weekly basis, maybe letting one or both of them in on Nick's secrets, so they'll be able to interact on a more regular basis, instead of all being stuck in their own separate little corners of the "Grimm" universe. Still, even as it is now, "Grimm" is a lot of fun. It's an easy watch, it's inventive, it's schlocky as hell, and I still think it has a lot of potential to be better.

"Persons of Interest" has settled into a pretty good case-of-the-week procedural, heavier on the action scenes than most. Since the pilot, it hasn't maintained the same level of expensive car chases and explosions, but neither have they entirely disappeared. We get about one good feature-quality action sequence a week, which is plenty to keep up the momentum of the plots. The production values are still very high for a prime time network show. The writing's quickly become formulaic, but it's also remained above average. So far, "Persons of Interest" has hinted that it's going to get into some labyrinthine back story about the creation of crime-predicting machine, but for the first part of the season the writers were more concerned with slowly moving Taraji P. Henson's character, Detective Carter, into an uneasy alliance with our hero, John Reese (Jim Caviezel). And happily, his dead girlfriend and all the angst that went with her, have largely dropped out of sight.

I'd complained that in the pilot, Caviezel's performance was too low-key and too blank, making it difficult to empathize with him. This has changed considerably. He still speaks softly and carries a big stick, but those bursts of personality that only came out during his badass moments have stopped being bursts, and now he's just a badass full time – and a bit of a deadpan snarker. His associate, Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson), has remained exactly the same, the incredibly intelligent, eccentric, and nebbish man behind the machine. He's clearly got a few skeletons in the closet that are going to come out eventually, but he's not the sinister mastermind I thought he might become. Quite the contrary. Some of his best moments are when he's used for comic relief. Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Chapman, who plays her partner, Detective Fusco, have also been holding their own. Henson especially, has become much more fun to watch now that her character is in the same morally gray area as the rest of the ensemble.

And now that I've firmly latched on to these two, I've happily let "Law & Order: SVU" slip out of my rotation for good. I was a fan of the show for years, but enough is enough. If I want to watch a crime show that has given itself over to so much sensationalism, I might as well watch one with fairy-tale monsters or one-man-army vigilantes.

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