‘Minority Report’ Attempts To Drag A Familiar Formula Into The Future

Nearly two years ago, Fox aired a sci-fi series called Almost Human, starring Michael Ealy and Karl Urban. Set in the not-to-distant future, the series paired human cops with androids to solve crimes. For what it was, it was quite good. It wasn’t based on the work of Phillip K. Dick, but it may as well have been; the show had a good cast, strong writing, solid characters, and successfully blended elements of science fiction and buddy cop movies.

However, for all the bells and whistles, the futuristic setting, and a sympathetic android, Almost Human couldn’t escape its format. It was a police procedural. Murders would be solved every week. The how remained trapped in a familiar cycle.

Network television has trouble breaking out of that format. Procedurals are the backbone of CBS. NBC has the Law & Order franchise (and Dick Wolf’s other two procedurals, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.). ABC has Castle, and Bones is now entering its 11th season on Fox.

This season, Fox is attempting to put another shade of lipstick on that same pig with Minority Report. It’s a sequel to/adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick short story that was also made into a 2002 Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise, and it comes from Spielberg’s Amblin Television. It’s set in the future; it has a reasonably talented cast; and it’s built on an intriguing premise. All of that, however, cannot obscure what Minority Report is at its heart: A network police procedural.

As procedurals go, however, it has potential. Set in 2065 Washington, D.C. — a decade after the events of the film — the series deals with the aftermath of the recently dismantled pre-crime era. In the film and short story, a hive of human Precogs had the ability to see crimes before they happened. With their tips, the police stepped in and arrested future murderers before they committed the crime. The flaw in that system, however, was that the Precogs could not predict changes of heart. They worked from the supposition that the future was preordained, but once the government realized that humans still had the free will to change their minds, the system was eradicated.

In the world of the TV series, three sibling Precogs lived — for roughly a decade — a milk bath and had their minds picked apart for evidence of future crimes. Once the pre-crime era ended, however, the three Precogs were thrown back out into the world and left to their own devices.

One of those Precogs is Dash (Stark Sands). In the pre-crime era, he and his twin brother Arthur (Nick Zano) worked together to predict crimes, along with their foster sister Agatha (Laura Regan). Dash could see visions of those crimes, while his brother Arthur knew the more concrete details, like the name and address of the future murderer and where it would happen.

As the series begins, Arthur has gone missing, leaving Dash with only visions, but no hard details. Dash partners with Detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good) and the two attempt to solve crimes before they happen using Dash’s visions as clues. It’s a police procedural with a twist: They solve murder cases before they become murder cases, with the caveat that the potential murderers also have to be caught in the act because you still can’t arrest someone for contemplating murder (it’s good to know the Constitution still has a place in 2065).

A successful police procedural is only as good as its characters, and there’s definitely potential in both Dash and Lara. She’s confident and ambitious (and sexy, per the network procedural rulebook). He’s boyishly charming, but lacks social skills (owing to spending his entire childhood in a milk bath). They also have enough chemistry to assume that there will be sexual tension (predictably, alas). Wilmer Valderrama (That ’70s Show) also co-stars as Will Blake, Lara’s sleazy-but-likable credit-stealing superior officer. As far as he knows, Dash just has some psychic abilities (see Mentalist, Psych), because Dash has to keep his unique gifts hidden from those who might exploit his future-predicting abilities for immoral gain.

Like many procedurals post-Veronica Mars, there’s also a running storyline to frame the weekly murder investigations, namely the mystery behind the twin brother’s disappearance. There’s potential for hanging a decent series mythology on that peg, but it remains to be seen how invested showrunner Max Borenstein (who wrote the screenplay for last year’s Godzilla) is in working that angle. Some procedurals ultimately end up leaning in to their serialized aspects (Fringe, Sleepy Hollow), while others keep them on the back burner for season after season until the audience finally gives up on them (Castle, Burn Notice).

Minority Report is not a bad show, at least from what can be surmised from the pilot. It has lavish production values, a likable cast, cool futuristic elements, and, most intriguing of all, an entire mental asylum full of would-be-murderers locked up during the pre-crime era, some of whom may rotate back in as potential murderers again. Unfortunately, while Minority Report may be set 50 years in the future, its current format remains a product of the past.