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Published: Monday, 6/7/2010

NBC offers another version of 'strangers together' plot


Viewers who like their mysteries murky and frustrating — hey there, Lost fans! — and their characters generic and uninteresting — bye-bye, Lost fans! — can cozy up to Persons Unknown, a series that doesn't give viewers enough reason to care.

In its premiere episode at 10 p.m. Monday on NBC, seven strangers wake up in an empty hotel located in an empty town located who-knows-where. Each has been abducted from his or her normal life.

Janet (Daisy Betts), viewers' entry into the show, gets taken while watching her daughter on a playground. The seeming hero, Joe (Jason Wiles, Third Watch), suggests that one of the abducted could actually be the puppet master hiding in plain sight.

“He's right,” says another abductee.

“Any of us could be any of them.”

And thus begins a state of general, nebulous paranoia as these people who have been thrown together start working to thwart their captors, who watch, presumably, via security cameras that are placed all over the hotel and the small town.

Once they get out of the hotel, they discover control mechanisms, including some on their own bodies, that prevent the seven from straying too far. Others, who appear equally unaware of what's going on, also show up to serve them (a hotel desk clerk hired overnight; a chef and restaurant staff).

“Persons Unknown” takes occasional breaks from the stranded strangers to follow a journalist who's researching a story about missing-mother Janet. It's probably a necessary escape from the claustrophobic situation with the strangers, but these scenes also feel tacked-on and irrelevant to the primary story.

The show is somewhat reminiscent of CBS's “Harper's Island” without the someone-dies-everyweek hook, which was slashermovie goofy but more engrossing than just a general state of wariness, which is all “Persons Unknown” offers in its premiere.

The closing images suggest the possibility of something more menacing to come, but veteran viewers of this sort of show will be left to wonder: How much is “Persons Unknown” going to be about marking time to avoid revelations, and do I want to inflict such a show on myself after getting hooked on other, similar failed series in recent years?

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.

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