One popular way to get something made in Hollywood today is to take a beloved film property and turn out a sequel series. That’s what happened with Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer. That’s what’s happening with CBS’s upcoming Limitless series. And that’s what Fox has done with Minority Report, its latest crime drama set years after the events of original 2002 film.
Like its forebear, the show asks what would happen if law enforcement could see the future and stop crimes before they happen. What are the ethical ramifications of that kind of power? Do we control our own fate? Though there’s a chance the show will take up these questions more thoughtfully in later episodes, at least where the pilot is concerned, this sequel series seems more concerned with putting a slick coat of paint on the tried-and-true procedural formula audiences have been watching for years. Even without precognition, Minority Report is still disappointingly predictable, and by taking the perspective of law enforcement, it ends up reversing the points the film tried to make.
While the show doesn’t demand the audience know every beat of the movie it draws from, it does give a relatively quick primer on the basics. In 2054, Washington, DC had just implemented a new initiative known as PreCrime, which used the visions of three mutated humans known as precogs to see violent crimes before they happened in order to put a stop to them. The initiative worked; the DC crime rate swiftly fell to zero. But when the futures the precogs saw turned out to be flawed and easily manipulated, PreCrime was dismantled and the trio was freed to live the rest of their lives off the grid.
Minority Report the series takes place in 2065, and murder has made a comeback in DC Detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good) and her colleagues are now forced to solve crimes the old-fashioned way — which is to say with visual implants, ubiquitous touch interfaces, and drones. Things have gotten so bad that there’s now nostalgia for the kind of effectiveness PreCrime brought to investigations. Former PreCrime head and new mayoral candidate Peter Van Eyck (Andrew Stewart-Jones) even promises to battle crime with a new program that mimics the precogs’ visions with data. How fortunate, then, that one of the freed precogs, Dash (Inside Llewyn Davis’ Stark Sands), has made his way to DC out of a desire to do some good with his talents.
Here, the table setting is the most interesting part of the pilot. A murder investigation brings Vega and Dash together, and after he sees another vision of yet another murder, the show wastes no time in pairing them up to take the threat down. The first episode shows the threads the series will likely start teasing out in subsequent arcs. For instance, it asks how much harm the PreCrime program did despite its brief period of success. The show does a fair job of taking the original movie a step or two further, while making it fit for TV. Even more commendable is how diverse the cast is, featuring Wilmer Valderrama and Li Jun Li in prominent supporting roles.
Unfortunately, the show is still playing by old rules. By and large, Minority Report is a buddy cop drama in the same vein as Bones or Almost Human — take one attractive but ultimately limited cop and team them up with an attractive, quirky partner. Drama ensues. Here, Vega is the tough-as-nails detective who longs for the PreCrime days. Dash is the idealist with a terrible gift. Together, they’ll do work others at the department could never manage, usually over the course of 40 minutes every Monday night. (Except for the conspiracy bubbling in the background, of course. That’s for the season finale.) Good and Sands both put in fine work in their respective roles, but are never asked to push the envelope beyond what might be expected in any mildly diverting CSI clone.
Even more discomfiting, is the fact that, while the show does ask some tough questions about the ethics of seeing into the future, they’re nowhere near as tough as those asked by the film. 2002’s Minority Report came out in the wake of 9/11 and the Patriot Act, and ultimately came down hard on law enforcement using broad, supernatural authority to combat crime. The series, on the other hand, would have us root for the authorities, and therefore can’t be so hard on them — especially when half the draw of the show, apart from all that sweet future tech, is seeing the predictive visions play out. Here, Dash’s ability is more superpower than any kind of problem.
In the age of NSA overreach, Minority Report feels out of place
During the course of Dash and Vega’s investigation, they meet with a former PreCrime prisoner. While Dash is troubled by the idea that he was a party to a man being incarcerated for something he never committed, Vega is self-assured. This man is a murderer. End of discussion. The scary thing is she’s proven right, and no matter Dash’s doubts, they come out of the episode knowing they acted for the greater good, representing an outright reversal from the movie. In the age of NSA overreach and police brutality, it’s now a lot harder for that sense of right and wrong to ring true.
In the end, Minority Report isn’t here for anyone to think too much about, but just enough to stay involved. It looks good, and the pilot lays enough groundwork for the series to go in some interesting directions in episodes ahead. Just don’t expect it to break much new ground.