The new FOX series Minority Report promises to be a crazy future tech playground — though whether the plots can sustain the amazing worldbuilding remains to be seen.
Set 20 years after the events in the movie Minority Report, the series maintains many of the original touches that came straight from Philip K. Dick's source material in the short story that inspired the flick. Our characters live in a surveillance-saturated environment where personalised ads dance across every surface, contact lenses deliver immersive augmented reality, and computers are controlled by hand gestures. In the movie, the police force has been revolutionised by three enhanced humans called precogs who see deadly crimes before they happen — at least, within a hundred mile radius of Washington, DC, where they are located.
But in the series, the precogs have escaped their creepy prison and are on the lam. The pre-crime division has been shut down, and its former leader is now a politician. Instead of pre-crime cop Tom Cruise, we have detective Lara Vega, who hates "cleaning up the messes" left behind by crimes and yearns to stop homicide before it happens just like they did in the old days. One of the precogs, a terrified young man named Dash, agrees with her.
The pilot episode was one of those classic setup stories, where we know that Dash and Lara are destined to become crime-solving partners. Though Dash's siblings don't approve, his visions of an attack on a political rally help Lara save the day. And we get to see what the two other precogs are up to — Dash's sister is totally off the grid, unwilling to share her visions with the world because she doesn't want to be "used;" and his twin brother is raking in the dough as some kind of mercenary futurist. If any of them are caught doing precog stuff, it's likely they will be imprisoned again and forced to work for the police. So Dash has to hide his talents while helping Lara, and evading the many eyes of the smart city where he lives.
Smart Cities, Augmented Reality, and Genetic Engineering
With a setup that feels like any number of recent scifi buddy cop series — from the often-brilliant Continuum to the disappointing Almost Human — Minority Report will be pushing hard to break out of the stale future crime genre. So far, its main selling point is the incredible tech worldbuilding that also made the Minority Report movie so memorable. As you can see in the clip above, Dash is racing through a city with smart trains that move liquidly through the city, cars detaching and reattaching smoothly. Every surface seems to be "smart," capable of displaying information or ads, and facial recognition is ubiquitous. When Dash gets on the train, freaked out, the window recognises that he's stressed and serves up an ad for cannabis.
Lara has AR contacts and a smart tablet that helps guide her through crime scenes (for those of you who read Charles Stross' incredible scifi cop novel Rule 34, Lara's setup will seem very familiar). But once she starts tracking her bad guy, with Dash's help, we see that the "genetic revolution" has hit this future hard. In fact, the bad guy has whipped up a batch of de-extincted passenger pigeons to do his dirty work, as if resurrecting extinct animals from DNA is just a hobby. We get the sense that there are a lot of other weird biotech innovations that lurk in this world.
For anyone who reads about current scientific research into genetic engineering and biological-computer interfaces, it's exciting to see a show that will bring those emerging visions to life.
That said, the show feels like it's about to settle comfortably into a pre-crime of the week format. Dash thrashes around with a vision, then he and Lara solve the crime before it happens. Person of Interest managed to turn this formula into something unbelievably awesome, but it's hard to say where Minority Report will go with it. For now, it's worth tuning in just for the future science visions — but if the characters and plot don't take on any depth or originality, no amount of biotech weirdness will make me want to hang around.