Sunday , September 27 2020

John Doe

The outlandishly smart hero of Fox’s new John Doe (Dominic Purcell) knows everything but his own name. A super savant with the ability to learn anything instantly (put him behind the controls of a helicopter and he’s quickly able to fly it in pursuit of a childnapper), Doe wakes up naked and amnesiac on an island off Seattle. The only physical indication that he’s somehow been tampered with by Forces Unknown: a wingding-shaped scar on his shoulder. Could be a birthmark, he theorizes, which makes us wonder if that mega-brain of his is all it’s cracked up to be.
Still, Doe’s smarts come in handy. Able to handicap both horses and the stock market, he makes himself comfortably wealthy in a day. So, naturally, he gets a job playing Rogers & Hart in a piano bar run by veteran gravel voice William Forsythe. Wouldn’t you?
Outside of that little, you know, memory thing, Doe has another small problem: he’s color blind and only sees the world around him in grainy black and white – except when he doesn’t. When he catches a TV newscast about a kidnapped girl, the guy’s able to see the girl in tinted color. Convinced she somehow must contain a clue to what’s happened to him, Doe goes to the Seattle police, where of course you know he’s gonna win over a skeptical detective (John Marshall Jones).
Our hero finds the little girl, but she offers no clues that’ll help him. Doe‘s writers have no intention of answering any of the big questions now. Their ploy will be to dribble out tantalizing hints throughout the season, end with a big cliffhanger that promises to “answer everything,” then feint away from that promise in season two. We’ve played this game before, and it’s a tricky one. Hold off too long (a la Chris Carter), and you start to lose viewers.
Makes things easier if you’ve got an appealing lead, of course, though from one ep I’m not sure whether Purcell fits that label or not. It doesn’t help that the show’s writers have given him an excessive amount of flat affect voiceovers in the pilot (yeah, we get it: you don’t know who you are!). Now that we’ve got the premise building out of the way, perhaps the guy’ll be able to relax into his role.
Still, you’ve gotta wonder if Doe‘s creators haven’t placed too much on one plot thread. Joss Whedon’s Firefly, which premiered just before Doe, has a character who’s been mysteriously tampered with, too – but she’s only one of a half dozen subplots. Doe‘s writers are hoping to keep viewers hooked with its secondary mysteries. On the basis of the show’s first case, I’m not sure how effective this’ll be. When your amateur detective is able to immediately pull the exact number of purple Impalas in the Seattle area from the recesses of his brain, you begin to suspect we’ll be subjected to regular variations of the ol’ Batman/Riddler gimme (where the World’s Greatest Detective is able to solve the taunting villain’s riddles using Gotham City knowledge we’re not privy to). When it comes to preternaturally smart ‘n’ damaged detectives, I’ll take Adrian Monk.
Doe‘s premiere ends with our hero sitting in a morgue, telling his tale to an anonymous corpse (hence, the voice-overs). Hopefully that li’l gimmick is just a one-shot deal. It’d be a pain in the ass if Doe had to sneak into the morgue weekly just to get the show started. What’ll he do if the cops don’t bring in any John/Jane Does that night?

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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