Forget Google Glass: In new CBS cyber-actioner Intelligence, a Google Brain is the new must-have accessory, especially tucked into the pretty head of likable galoot Josh Holloway, for whom we've hankered since his Sawyer days on Lost. Think of "America's favorite superweapon" — their words, not mine — as the sexiest new laptop in the Apple store.
At a time when many of us are begrudgingly addicted to the "information grid" — or at least can't stop Facebooking cat pictures — there's juicy promise in a show about a half-man, half-search engine who can't unplug, who can't escape the overwhelming online onslaught, whether he wants to or not. A gift and a curse, right? From the two episodes I've seen — including tonight's "Red X," which gets into the human dilemma more than the pilot — Intelligence isn't ready to go much deeper than a slick procedural drama, but there's certainly promise.
Holloway still drawls out "How ya doin', chief?" like a smirking Georgia barkeep, and his shaggy shtick is a saving grace among all the tech-driven nerdery. His Gabriel Vaughn is a "reckless, unpredictable, insubordinate" (but of course!) Delta Force soldier turned into a human computer — a sorta-cyborg with scruff. Implanted with a one-of-a-kind chip, he can answer any question, "cyber-render" any crime scene — even call up sexts when macking on a new female partner: "Wow, that photo you emailed your boyfriend in college. Gotta be careful what you send out into the world."
Finally, a show IT guys and soccer moms can enjoy together!
The way it works now, Intelligence is overcooked with global-terrorism plots and leaden dialogue flowing through the halls of U.S. Cyber Command. It gets its bad guys from the Middle East and China, its cold bureaucrats, including a monotonous hard-case played by CSI's Marg Helgenberger, from Homeland. And it has done little to explain how Gabriel became Gabriel.
But thanks to Holloway, it also has a haggard humanism; you get the feeling Gabriel's gift is eventually going to be a struggle, and that's when the show could pay off. Early in the debut ep, when someone at U.S. Cyber Command intones, "We gave a human the kind of power that had previously been found in a machine," a key '70s touchstone comes lovingly to mind: The Six Million Dollar Man. Lee Majors' Steve Austin was also skeptical of his governmental bosses, and yet he could also sell a wink better than most bionic boys.
Holloway will have to carry the show, and yet when CBS ponies up for special effects, the souped-up visuals in our hero's head are big-screen gorgeous. (Even if they're accompanied by lines such as "I'm in the DMV database now" and Holloway with a faraway look in his eyes. He's processing, folks. Give the man space.) A shoot-out in a darkened paintball arcade packs novel punch when Gabriel accesses a space satellite with thermal capabilities — and he can suddenly see, and shoot, the bad guys.
Fancy tricks and cyber-speak aside, Intelligence will be best served focusing on the emotional facets of Gabriel's powers instead of, say, building a love-hate romance with his Secret Service bodyguard (Once Upon a Time's Meghan Ory) or drawing out the mystery of his shadowy CIA wife. Keep it simple, CBS. After all, Holloway has that same sparkly small-screen magnetism as such icons as Majors, Tom Selleck and James Garner, no small praise there. Let Josh be Josh, chief, and we'll keep coming back.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on on Twitter.