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Minority Report report: leads still boring, future still fancy

Stark Sands, Nick Zano
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Here’s the good news: The second episode of Minority Report doesn’t try to cram a film’s-worth of impact into 40-odd minutes. The bad news? When it’s not trying to do too much, it doesn’t do much of anything.

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It isn’t for lack of effort. In “Mr. Nice Guy,” Meagan Good and Stark Sands continue to roll a boulder uphill, trying without much success to make Minority Report into the smart hybrid of procedural and sci-fi it seems to want to be. They stare meditatively. They walk with purpose. Occasionally, they smile. But what they’re really there to do is usher us from plot point to plot point, and react to things. They’re reacting so, so hard. Perhaps that might be enough if either the plot or the reactions were interesting.

The primary duo—our Rizzoli and Isles, our Bones and Booth, our Ichabod and Abbie—remain almost entirely unremarkable.They’re not people, they’re a series of randomly selected attributes from the tough-cop and quirky-guy grab bags. Dash isn’t a person, he’s a series of ticks who plays chess with a bunch of people at once and doesn’t know how to talk to women without shouting things no one would ever say. Vega isn’t a person, she’s an incredibly impractical leather jacket with a problem with authority who sometimes counts in Spanish and likes exposition. Their partnership, a word that gets dropped over and over again in this episode, doesn’t actually exist, because a partnership requires two people, and this one has zero.

It’s a big generic wash, a pairing so dull that the few moments where Good and Sands spark just make the whole affair more frustrating. Those moments are there, by the way. A flash of the well-meaning fumbler Dash might be comes to life after he zaps a guy with a “sick stick”: At the resulting fountain of vomit, Sands’s eyes pop out in a mix of horror and amazement that felt completely honest. I believed Vega to be the brash, impatient character the show wants me to see for the first time when, during the Frank T.J. Mackey-style speech, she enthusiastically rolled her eyes and made what can only be described as a this-makes-me-want-to-ralph face. Maybe puke, or the suggestion of puke, is the key.

With a few more such sparks and the already-solid supporting cast (more on them below), it might be enough to make up for the plot itself. But with no handy misdirection to otherwise engage the audience, there’s nothing to do but see if you can beat the psychic and the cop to the answer—and if you’ve ever seen a procedural cop show, you probably did. There’s an obvious red herring in the guise of “pick-up scientist” Tyson Cole (played with just enough sleaze by Ron Melendez), and a setting that all but guarantees that the killer will be outraged by some sort of perceived slight. Combine that with a few slightly long shots of the milquetoast bartender and poof, mystery solved. No need to see the future.

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What’s worse than the predictable ‘who’ of the whodunnit is the complete lack of thought put into the actions these people take. As Vega, Wally (Daniel London), and the siblings are constantly reminding Dash (and the audience), it would be disastrous if the identity of any of the precogs was revealed. So why in the world are Vega and Dash constantly discussing exactly that issue in public? Why are they shouting about precogs in a bar? Why are they joking about seeing the future while waiting in line? Why is Vega, a purportedly excellent police officer, handing over a weapon in the middle of a big crowd of people while declaring it to be police-issue? And why, once they’ve finally nabbed the mysterious bartender, do they fondly chat about Dash’s future-predicting ability while their conscious and unrestrained assailant writhes on the floor beneath them? This is a man who is about to go to jail for what could be the rest of his life. Maybe, just maybe, letting it slip that this arrest wasn’t exactly by the book isn’t the smartest move.

Li Jun Li
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Still, there are glimmers of promise here and there, though fewer than last week, and as with last week, most of them come from the supporting cast. Nick Zano’s Arthur remains a treat, and his scene with Sands is the episode’s standout. At first, Arthur’s manipulation of his brother seems calculated and callous, but Zano’s performance lets rage and fear seep out around the edges of the mercenary exterior. “I don’t work for free anymore,” he growls through gritted teeth, then reels the anger back in—but it’s still bubbling away, just beneath the surface. Li Jun Li’s Akeela, London’s spindly Wally, and yes, Wilmer Valderrama also turn in work that’s engaging despite the porridge in which they’re swimming, and while they provide much of what actually works about “Mr. Nice Guy,” their performances also highlight exactly what’s missing elsewhere.

If the writers spent a little more time developing the people at the center of their story, and a little less time constantly reminding the audience that this is the future, it could possibly right the ship. Enough with calling Beyoncé’s music “the oldies.” Enough with the Tinder jokes. Enough with the science-ball, and the stroller touch-screens, and the gadgets, my god, the gadgets. There are so many gadgets. There’s world-building, and then there’s this nonsense. Let’s hope they turn it down a notch and focus on the characters and relationships that make up the heart of this story—that is, if stories still exist in 2065.

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Stray Observations

  • This week in “hey-it’s-that-guy”: I was really impressed by the casting of Wally the Caretaker last week, thinking he was a dead ringer for the guy who played a similar character in the movie. Turns out it is the same guy, and he is awesome.
  • Speaking of Wally, he apparently learned to make coffee from Gale on Breaking Bad. Stay safe, Wally.
  • I know I bitched about all the gadgets, but the cop-tact lenses are pretty cool. Still, when Vega’s night vision got all messed up because the lights turned on, why didn’t she just yell “day vision!” and fix it?
  • They may have spread it on a little thick, but I’ll applaud anything that calls out pickup artists for being the worst.
  • “It’s not me I’m worried about, it’s my… what’s that word again?” Job? Your job? Tell me it’s your job. “Friend.” Oh.
  • This week: Magnolia. Next week: Cocktail? Days of Thunder? I want one additional Tom Cruise reference a week, please.
  • Thanks to everyone for reading last week (and right now). Looking forward to watching this with you, wherever it goes.
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