‘Persons’: lost in a ghost town

From left: Kate Lang Johnson, Jason Wiles, and Daisy Betts in NBC’s “Persons Unknown.’’ From left: Kate Lang Johnson, Jason Wiles, and Daisy Betts in NBC’s “Persons Unknown.’’ (Carlos Somonte/Nbc)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / June 7, 2010

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If you’re still feeling ooky from a “Lost’’ hangover — cranky from watching a hundred answers evaporate before your very eyes, the images of Shannon and Boone repeating on you like a stubborn curry — and if you’re actually thinking of declaring your life a “Lost’’-free zone for the next few weeks, then you may want to avoid “Persons Unknown.’’

NBC’s “Persons Unknown’’ is a summer series that throws seven strangers together in an empty town in the middle of nowhere and promises to solve the mystery by the end of the 13-episode run. The characters, like those on “Lost,’’ are disoriented, terrified, unsure of trusting one another — all the familiar post-nuclear, post-9/11 feelings that propel paranoia-based TV series such as “The Prisoner’’ and B sci-fi movies such as “The Day the Earth Stood Still.’’ By the end, supposedly, we’ll discover where they are and whether their darkest fears are justified.

Based on the first episode of “Persons Unknown,’’ tonight at 10 on Channel 7, I’m not inclined to stick with the show. And that’s not just because I feel burned by the irresolution of “Lost’’; “Persons Unknown’’ isn’t built around an ensemble of characters who are engaging in their own right, beyond the mildly provocative situation they’re in. They don’t promise to be more than a collection of types, like the generic figures in TV’s “Poseidon Adventure’’ remake. And if we don’t care about them, then it’s hard to care about the possible threats that surround them.

Drugged and abducted from their ordinary lives in various parts of the country, the seven strangers don’t quite realize they’re being watched through hidden security cameras. (Insert “Real World’’ joke — “seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped’’ — here.) Who is watching them? Are they unwilling participants in a “Truman Show’’-like reality TV scenario? Is one of them part of the abduction scheme? Why were they chosen? Where is this town, which looks like an abandoned movie set in the mountains? And will the two San Francisco reporters looking into the disappearance of young mother Janet (Daisy Betts) figure it all out?

The show was created by Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote “The Usual Suspects,’’ so big Keyser Soze-size twists are probably in store. Maybe they’re all . . . dead?

The leader of the group seems to be Joe (Jason Wiles from “Third Watch’’), a can-do guy with secrets. Janet is the love interest, Tori (Kate Lang Johnson) is the bimbo, Moira (Tina Holmes) is the gruff eccentric, and Charlie (Alan Ruck) appears to be the soulless businessman. Perhaps the show will improve as more information about these people and their captors surfaces. Then the abductees will no longer need to speak in colorless, Beckettian vagaries about who “They’’ are, and we will feel less puzzled about why we should watch.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at For more on TV, visit

PERSONS UNKNOWN Starring: Jason Wiles, Chadwick Boseman, Andy Greenfield, Tina Holmes, Gerald Kyd, Alan Ruck, Kate Lang Johnson, Daisy Betts

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 10-11