Tag Archives: Minority Report

Minority Report: “Fredi” offers character development, but not much else

To be fair, the character development in “Fredi” was both much-needed and refreshing after three weeks of heavily plot-focused story-telling. However, as nice as it was to learn a little more about Akeela and see Dash get a bit more to do, it wasn’t enough to carry an episode with such a hackneyed (albeit technically well-executed) case of the week.

The biggest problem I have with Minority Report at this point, though, is that I don’t think the writers really know how to embrace the aspects of the show’s concept and source material that could really set it apart from the pack of similar procedural programs. The pilot episode was a promising mess, with too many, too-conflicting ideas, but it also had a distinctness and specificity that has been largely missing in subsequent episodes. Most significantly, the major problem and moral conflict that was introduced in the pilot–essentially, how to deal with damage caused by pre-crime–seems to have been entirely abandoned, and it hasn’t really been replaced with any similarly weighty conflict.

“Fredi” opens with the official commencement of the Hawk-Eye program as the civilian analysts graduate their training and move on to working with their assigned officers. Right at the end of this opening scene, Dash has his vision of the week, helpfully warned about it by the device Wally gave him last week.  This vision is even less helpful than useful, but the mystery this week gives Dash some good opportunities to show off what he’s capable of doing on his own as he goes “undercover” to date the woman, Fredi, that he thinks is going to be murdered.

This is actually a tough story to squeeze into one episode. It’s not that there’s a lot that happens; on the contrary, there are relatively few events going on in “Fredi.” It’s just that the emotional arc of the episode, with Dash’s romance with Fredi, the revelation of Fredi’s search for the truth about her sister’s death, and the final “twist” ending, feels so rushed that it becomes unbelievable. I liked seeing this side of Dash explored, and it’s good to know that he’s not as helpless socially as he’s seemed the last few weeks, but I’ve never been a fan of these sorts of whirlwind fictional romances. It’s the right emotional trajectory, but it happens so quickly that the impact of it all is too diminished to be truly effective.

Still, there were some parts of the episode that worked.

I was thrilled to see Akeela get a little more screen time. I liked her meeting with Wally, and I thought her scenes with Vega worked well. I’m starting to feel like these two women are actually friends, and I hope we get to see some more of them doing things together in the future, hopefully a little less focused on Dash-voyeurism.

Another pairing that I liked? Dash and Arthur. Arthur’s willingness to drop whatever he is doing in order to be available for his brother is actually a sort of fascinating piece of characterization. It shows that Dash isn’t the only one with some issues with codependency, but it also shows just how deep their bond really goes. Dash’s reliance on Arthur for assistance can be a little tiresome, and I’d like to see Arthur’s area of expertise be a little more specifically defined and limited, but I will forgive it this week because I thought the eyeball printer was awesome even though I’m not sure how Arthur knows that guy.

Finally, Agatha might be the most interesting character on the show, and the mystery of exactly what she’s up to is genuinely intriguing. She sent Charlie to get her a schematic for the milk bath that she and the twins were kept in during pre-crime, and I honestly have no idea what she might need that for–which is a feeling I love having about shows. This secondary plot could stand to be a little more tonally connected to everything else, but it’s the last vestige of some of the big ideas that were introduced in the pilot.

Mostly, “Fredi” is notable as the first episode of the show that felt more like a straightforward procedural.

When I watched the pilot, the thing that I found most interesting was that question of what to do with the survivors of the pre-crime system, both precognitives and pre-criminals; the contrast between those two experiences; and the ethical and moral questions presented by Dash’s return to law enforcement. The pilot was, as I said, a mess, but I had high hopes that this could be a smart, timely show to address some important topics. Even the shift in the last couple of episodes to a less substantive case of the week format didn’t faze me because the institution of the Hawk-Eye program was on the horizon, and that should present a ton of ethically grey material to explore. Then we get “Fredi,” which basically ignores Hawk-Eye altogether after the first few minutes, as if the whole Hawk-Eye thing was just a way to give Dash and Vega a cover for working together. It’s disheartening that the first case they work on after getting the official go-ahead is one that isn’t related to Hawk-Eye at all.

Fox has already cut their series order for this show from thirteen episodes to ten, and while this is a normal pattern for the network, I’m having a hard time seeing why they should keep this show around longer than that. I’m probably going to give it a couple more weeks at least because I’m still enjoying it, but it’s sad to see what I think could have been a winning premise and excellent source material being squandered like this. Minority Report could have been something really special if it had embraced the cerebral concepts it originally introduced, but instead it’s spent the last three weeks distancing itself as far as possible from them.

Random thoughts:

  • I’m not sure how I feel about the explanation for Akeela’s face tattoos. I thought facial recognition software was already more advanced than that.
  • I had the strongest feeling all through the episode that I recognized the actress playing Fredi, and I did! She’s Sheila Vand, who played The Girl in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. She just looks very different in color.
  • If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night immediately. It’s on Netflix, and it’s wonderful.
  • I love Rizwan Manji, who played the guy with the eyeball printer.
  • Seriously, that eyeball printer is pretty cool.
  • But how did that eyeball not get squished just rolling around in Fredi’s purse?

Minority Report fixes some problems but then introduces a few more

I said last week that Minority Report wasn’t going to work until they managed to get Dash onto the police force in some kind of official capacity, and that was the first order of business in “Hawk-Eye.” The D.C. police are rolling out their new high tech super surveillance program, and Dash is going to be the civilian consultant partnered with Detective Vega. The good news is that they now have a legit reason to be hanging out together, but there’s some bad news wrapped up in here as well. Namely that none of this makes a lick of sense.

First, Vega and Dash have to bring Akeela in on the secret of Dash’s identity–apparently Akeela is the one who will be interviewing, selecting, and assigning the civilians who will be involved in the Hawk-Eye project. That’s an awful lot of responsibility for one individual in an enormous police force, especially for one individual who is low enough on the totem pole that she’s as terrified of losing her job as Akeela is. It just seems like this sort of very high stakes experimental program would have a little more oversight than this, but okay.

Second, they have to tell Arthur about it because Dash needs an identity. That makes sense, since no one is supposed to know who Dash is, but it doesn’t make sense that the government just released all of the precogs out into the world with no identities of their own. I mean, it just seems like there would need to be some way for the government to keep tabs on them. Also, we can already see in 2015 how increasingly difficult it’s becoming for people to just exist in the world without extensively documenting their lives–IDs, credit cards, mobile devices, social media, shopping and so on. We are all pretty incredibly connected. Already, almost everything we do requires a login. Minority Report is showing us a world where this is even more true–one major plot point in this very episode depends upon the obsolescence of cash, for example–so how has Dash been surviving without an identity?

Which all kind of leads into the biggest issue that I’m having with this show, which is the cognitive dissonance of it all. There are just too many contradictions, and they’re starting to be glaringly obvious enough that they are getting in the way of the story and garbling whatever message the show is trying to get across.

For example, this episode’s theme was, ostensibly, that everyone has a dark side. That’s a little obvious, especially for this kind of show, but it’s not the worst idea. It could have been a solid concept to build the story around, and there were some parts of the episode that worked perfectly in service of this theme, specifically the scenes with Agatha, who got really interesting this week. However, much of the episode was taken up with trying to deal with issues that I’m just not sure this sort of show is well-equipped to handle.

One major contradiction in this episode was Vega’s apparent (and entirely out of nowhere) distaste for pre-crime and her exaggerated skepticism of the Hawk-Eye program. In previous episodes, Vega seemed to be generally nostalgic for the pre-crime days. Although she recognizes some of the problems with the program, she also longs for the ability to prevent crime instead of just reacting to it. In fact, this is sort of her whole thing, and it’s the reason why she’s willing to risk her career (and her friend’s career!) in order to utilize Dash’s precognitive abilities. So why is she so disdainful about this new program that offers exactly the opportunity that she claims to want? Oh, because she’s some kind of loose cannon who doesn’t like to follow the rules? Enough that Blake asks Dash to keep an eye on her and tattle on her? Oh, okay.

Here’s the thing. Vega is a dirty cop. She has, so far, consistently engaged in behavior that is ethically questionable at best and downright frightening at times. In three episodes, we’ve seen a pattern of irresponsible use of an unapproved (and admittedly inaccurate!) information source, excessive force and brutality, misappropriation of and misuse of police resources, giving police-issue weapons to a civilian, and covering up crimes (both her own and others’). But, as in many (if not all) police shows, we’re supposed to see her as the hero because her intentions are pure.

This episode even calls that into question, though, with the (actual, not subtextual) suggestion that both Vega and Dash are less good-hearted and principled fighters for justice and more unethically abusing Vega’s station as a police officer to exorcise personal demons as a way of dealing with undiagnosed mental illnesses as a result of childhood trauma. Because that’s healthy and safe for society.

I don’t know about this show right now. There are still a ton of good ideas about policing, surveillance, civil liberties, and the justice system that I think Minority Report is trying to handle in a nuanced fashion. But I’m not sure this show, or maybe any show, is up to the task. There’s a real conversation to be had here, about the trade offs that we make in order to be safe, about the relative values of security and freedom, about the ethics and efficacy of predictive policing and surveillance, but whatever message the show is trying to have just gets garbled when it’s trying to talk out both sides of its mouth on every aspect of the issue.

Minority Report has some cool ideas, but it’s too busy showing off its future tech to develop them

“Mr. Nice Guy” was weird. I really want to love this show, and for that I need it to succeed, but last night’s episode was a big step backwards when the show desperately needs to improve upon its shaky start.

The show almost lost me with an early scene of people playing at a park with some kind of clear glass-looking ball thing. Then the camera swoops around and there’s a baby with a big touch screen on the front of its stroller. And some other ridiculous stuff that is less “cool and futuristic” and more “boring and impractical.” And can we talk about how literally every near-future sci-fi seems to really think all the phones and tablets and computers of the future are going to be made of clear glass and what a terrible idea it is? And even if it’s not the worst idea ever, I know for a fact that this has been a sci-fi standard for at least my entire lifetime, and it’s still not nearly as cool as prop makers seem to think it is.

Also, can we talk about the perennial sci-fi insistence that technology is going to drive people apart and diminish human interactions? The singles club that Vega and Dash go to in this episode, where people just touch armbands to calculate their compatibility (I guess, since it’s never really explained exactly what the % on the bands represents) is absurd, and the show takes itself a little too seriously for it to be funny. The biggest problem here, though, is that this matchmaking tech completely undermines the big idea of the episode, which is ostensibly concerned with toxic masculinity and pickup artistry and male entitlement. In a world where people can connect (or not) by just touching their armbands at a club, how is there still room for either pick-up artistry or the type of Nice Guy™ mentality that leads to the explosion of violence that Dash and Vega spend the whole episode trying to prevent?

It’s not that I don’t think these things will still exist in forty years–pick-up has been going strong since the 70s, and Nice Guys™ are probably eternal–but you can’t imagine a future in which these things logically shouldn’t exist (or at least shouldn’t exist the same way they do today) and then still use them as a major part of your television show. Unfortunately, this means that this week’s case of the week just didn’t work at all, and in this sort of procedural show that’s a very bad thing.

The other thing that didn’t work in this episode was the dynamic between Dash (Stark Sands) and Vega (Meagan Good). I still stand by my initial statement last week that our two leads have a nice chemistry, and the actors certainly work well together, but the relationship between their characters is starting to get, well, weird. In an episode that deals so heavily with male entitlement, the most striking display of it comes from Dash, whose drive to stop the murders that he sees is feeling increasingly self-centered as he continuously pushes Vega to bend rules and work outside the boundaries of her role as a police officer.

These characters are supposed to be partners, but I’m not buying it yet, and I don’t think that can truly happen until they are working together in a legitimate fashion. I don’t see what the benefit is to Vega in the current situation. She’s relying on an informant whose information is spotty and possibly inaccurate. They have to keep Dash’s existence and identity secret, which means that they don’t have the support and resources of the police department. Vega is already taking actions that could jeopardize her career–turning off her body cam, giving a police-issue weapon to a civilian, selling police reports–and her other relationships–especially with Blake (Wilmer Valderrama) and Akeela (Li Jun Li), who both seem to sincerely care about Vega. It just seems to be all very one-sided, with Dash getting to do work that helps him feel better about his visions and Vega taking on all the risk and responsibility. We’re two episodes into the show, and it’s already obvious that Vega’s apprehension of criminals in this way is raising a ton of questions from higher up in the police organization.

It’s a problem, and the simple way to solve it is to bring Dash in to the police force through legitimate channels as a consultant or something. This would allow Vega and Dash to work more closely together, create more opportunities for interactions with the show’s truly excellent supporting cast, and it would cut straight to the meat of the story, which pretty much has to be “what happens when people find out about Dash?”

The show is doing some great set-up for that eventuality, and the best scenes in this episode were in service of that bigger plot, but the episode was dragged down with a nonsensical case of the week that felt more like an advertisement for awful future technology that no one in their right mind wants than an actual story with real human people in it. I want more of Arthur, Agatha, Wally, Akeela, and Blake. And I want less silly future technology. They can keep Vega’s lenses, though. Those are actually pretty cool.

Unpopular Opinion: I kind of liked Minority Report.

I wasn’t making this show a priority because I just couldn’t get excited about the premise, but I finally watched it on Hulu this morning, and it was surprisingly enjoyable.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m still not sold on the premise of the show. In a world where there are increasing concerns about government surveillance and violations of privacy as well as serious problems with police overreach, corruption, and excessive force, Minority Report‘s nostalgia for pre-crime actually might be dangerously tone deaf. I mean, the entire point of Philip K. Dick’s book and the 2002 film was that the whole pre-crime thing was pretty irredeemably evil. The show, as was evident from its trailers, seems to be going with “but maybe it wasn’t?” (And I hope you are reading that in the Eli Cash voice I thought it in.) It’s a tough premise to sell, but after watching the pilot episode of the show I’m at least slightly encouraged that they might be handling things with a bit more nuance than I expected.

The good parts of the pilot are really, really good. The cold open, where we see ex-precog Dash (Stark Sands) running through future Washington, D.C. trying to stop a murder is excellently done and really hammers home the idea that, for Dash, his visions create a moral imperative that drives him back into the world to find a way to do some good with his gift. This might be hopelessly naive of him, in light of his own history as a formerly enslaved child, but the show seems prepared to address this issue. Both of the other precogs appear in the pilot and opinions on the moral imperative thing seem to be mixed. It also looks, based on the pilot’s epilogue, like the precogs’ ongoing fears of imprisonment and exploitation may fuel a longer story arc, which could get interesting and lead to an interested dilemma for Dash later on.

Meagan Good plays Lara Vega, the obligatory no-nonsense police officer, and I like her. She’s kind of a stock character, reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow‘s Abbie Mills, Castle‘s Kate Beckett, iZombie‘s Clive Babineaux and enough similar characters that there’s nothing about Vega that stands out. However, I love this particular collection of character tropes, and I rarely get tired of watching them in action. Aditionally, Meagan Good is likable and has an easy chemistry with both co-star Sands and Wilmer Valderrama, who plays her slightly slimy-seeming boss, Will Blake. This gives Vega’s interactions with other characters a natural feel that works in the show’s favor.

The only exception to this is in a couple of scenes between Vega and Dash where the show’s writers seem determined to hit the viewer right upside the head with exposition and shove some character motivation right in our faces. It’s too heavy handed in this first episode, and it ends up being jarring and distracting from the story. That said, television pilots often try to cram as much of this as possible in, so I can forgive it for now. The true test will come next week when we find out if this kind of ham-fisted hand-holding is just a pilot episode tic or if it’s going to be characteristic of the whole series.

The world-building is fairly pedestrian, with the usual near-future stuff in evidence, but the production values are slick and professional. The costumes are alright, and I actually kind of love Vega’s look, even if she does have a cleavage window. Minority Report continues the trend of more diverse casting in sci-fi television, which is nice to see as well. In general, while some of the show’s visual effects are a bit silly (the robots that look like someone chromed a bunch of golden snitches, for example) and there’s not much new or interesting in terms of the setting, the show’s future D.C. feels plausible enough that I can see myself spending a lot of time watching it if it can overcome some of the writing missteps of the pilot.

All in all, Minority Report turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a disaster, and what I got instead was a well-cast show with some genuinely interesting ideas. The execution so far isn’t great, but it’s passable, and I think there’s a lot to work with here. I don’t know if it will ever be a great show, but it wouldn’t be hard for it to be a good one. In the meantime, it’s definitely enjoyable enough for me to come back to it to see if it improves.

What I will be (and you should be) watching this fall

So, it took me most of a summer of watching light fare to recover from this last season of Game of Thrones, but I think I’m more or less ready for watching and writing about some new television this fall. I won’t be writing about everything I watch, obviously, and there are a couple of things I intend to write about that I don’t know if I’ll be able to stick with–that could end up like my watching and posting about Killjoys did this summer; I still haven’t watched the last two episodes of that show, I was so bored/frustrated with it.

Here’s the plan:

The Mindy Project – Tuesdays on Hulu starting 9/15. I honestly love this show, and I will watch it til the end of time, although I rarely write about it outside of a line or two on Tumblr. The first episode of season four is excellent, and the first three seasons are available to stream on Hulu as well so it’s not too late too catch up if you’re really dedicated.

Doctor Who – Saturdays on BBC America starting 9/19. Doctor Who is another show I just can’t quit. It’s also one that I intend to write about this year, although I haven’t had much positive to say about it during Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner. I’m not making any promises about this one, though. Right now, my goal is to have my Doctor Who post up on Monday mornings, but I’m not going to destroy myself over this show the way I do over Game of Thrones. If it gets too insufferable, I will likely switch to just watching it.

Minority Report – Mondays on Fox starting 9/21. Frankly, I’m already bored by this series, but I’ll probably check out the first episode or two just to confirm my suspicion that it makes no sense. I’m pretty sure the whole point of Minority Report was that the whole pre-crime thing is a terrible idea and this show seems to be presupposing that–maybe it isn’t? Okaaaay.

Scream Queens – Tuesdays on Fox starting 9/22. This show is relevant to basically all of my interests. And it has Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m currently planning to write about this one on Wednesdays.

Heroes Reborn – Thursdays on NBC starting 9/24. This show is basically not relevant to anything. No one wanted or asked for it. But it’s a thing that is happening. Since I loved the first season of Heroes as well as anybody, I will be watching this, but I’ll only be writing about it if it’s really good or really comically terrible.

Bob’s Burgers – Sundays on Fox starting 9/27. Love it. Watch it with my family. Will almost never post anything about it except gifs of Tina on Tumblr.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Sundays on Fox starting 9/27. Also love, but also won’t write about unless something major happens.

iZombie – Tuesdays on the CW starting 10/6. The first season of this show was a little uneven, and I wasn’t totally thrilled with the way it ended, but I plan to tune in again this year and write about it some more. Depending on how things pan out, I may end up choosing between this and Scream Queens to write about, though. Just, realistically, I’m not sure I have it in me to write about more than one show a day, especially as I’ve got a lot of reading that I want to do over the next few months as well.

Jane the Virgin – Mondays on the CW starting 10/12. I won’t write about this show (mostly because it’s basically perfect), but it’s another one that we watch as a family and I can’t wait.

Supergirl – Mondays on CBS starting 10/26. I kind of dislike most super hero stuff, but this show looks completely charming. I’m currently planning to write about it.

Ash vs. Evil Dead – Saturdays on Starz starting 10/31. This show is definitely what I am doing on Halloween. I’m not sure if I will write about it or not. It depends on how good this show is and how bad this season of Doctor Who is.

Into the Badlands – Sundays on AMC starting 11/15. This show is almost certainly awful, but I’m kind of interested in it anyway. No plans to write about it.

The Man in the High Castle – On Amazon Prime starting 11/20. I haven’t read the Philip K. Dick novel this series is based upon, but the trailer for the show looks promising. I’m hoping to read the book sometime over the next couple of months, and then I might watch the show.

Jessica Jones – On Netflix starting 11/20. Another Marvel show. I’m somewhat looking forward to this one, but I haven’t even finished Daredevil yet, so there’s no telling when I’ll get around to it. I do really like Krysten Ritter, though.

Childhood’s End – On SyFy starting 12/14. I read this book over the summer, and I totally understand why it’s one of the great sci-fi novels. I also totally have no faith in this adaptation of it. It looks legit awful, and I’m a little embarrassed for SyFy about it. I’ll definitely be watching it, though. And I expect that I’ll write some about it, too. I think it’s going to be just that enraging.

The Expanse – On SyFy starting 12/14. I’m somewhat more optimistic about this show, although I haven’t read the source material (and don’t really intend to unless the show is really good). I’ve no idea whether I’ll write about it or not. It depends on whether I have any feelings about it strong enough to be worth sharing.

I’m really disappointed that the new shows that seem intended to capitalize on the popularity of Game of Thrones-esque, gritty, dark medieval European settings (The Bastard Executioner and The Last Kingdom) both look boring as shit. I’m actually a pretty big fan of the gritty medieval stuff, but I have no desire to watch shows that look to be almost entirely devoid of women. Game of Thrones might hate its women, but at least they exist there.

In all honestly, the shows I’m most looking forward to this fall are all returning favorites. The new stuff that’s coming out isn’t that exciting, with a couple of exceptions, and a solid half of it looks actively bad. I figure I’ll try a few new things, though. Worst case scenario, everything is terrible and I end up reading more books instead.