After just a few months, the Precogs of the TV series Minority Report seem to have come full circle—back into the milk bath—and gained almost nothing for having made the trip. As of Oct 9, 2015, Fox has shortened the order for Season One episodes from 13 to 10, which is a clear sign the series is in trouble.
However, the premise of the original story (Philip K. Dick, 1956) and the film adaptation (Steven Spielberg, 2002) remains worth a deeper investigation. If the government and police have access to visions of the future, what becomes of our safety and civil rights, including those of the officers charged with prescience-driven prevention?
The television series based on Minority Report has had three strikes against it since the first episode, in the opinion of this author. The first is the main character, one of the Precogs, Dashiell Lively (Stark Sands).
In the film, three PreCogs (Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell Lively) were able to see crime—particularly murder—before it happened. They provided warnings (i.e., were forced to) to the PreCrime program so that agents such as John Anderton (Tom Cruise) might be successful at prevention. The plot of the television series picks up more than a decade after the events of the film.
Fans of the book or the film could be forgiven the expectation that the series would be a continuation of the career of John Anderton or, depending on the interpretation of that character’s fate, another agent of PreCrime.
Mr. Spielberg’s assessment of Minority Report seems to have not been revisited by Max Borenstein as he was developing the franchise for TV.
“50% character and 50% very complicated storytelling with layers and layers of murder mystery and plot”
By that estimation, in focusing on Dash, the series starts with a less fully-formed and less competent hero. It shorts its own formula. The emphasis on Dash causes several significant problems. None of the Precogs were raised per se, not even by wolves. They were merely sustained and exploited as a resource. None of the Precogs become people with identities and motivations of their own. We’re not shown the origin of Dash’s desire to prevent the crimes to which he is prematurely witness.
The series could have offered us a belief by Dash that if he could somehow eradicate crime, he might not be subject to his horrific visions. Another approach might have illustrated Dash and his siblings living in a world after the PreCrime project was disbanded and the consequences of a world without it.
Instead, Dash is not motivated from a sense of justice or a personal cause requiring crime prevention. Fighting crime is all he has known so it’s all he thinks to do.
His social graces are poor—excusable as he spent most of his formative years indentured in isolation from society. Dash is actually one-third of a whole character, and therefore less than half of Spielberg’s equation. A strong dynamic between Dash and his siblings could have been made with each Precog assuming the roles of id, ego, and superego. They could have been explored as a close-knit family who’ve only each other on which to depend.
In the end, the Precogs are aspects of a single character without a true arc. They have limited resources, and by the second episode, they are back to the hive-gestalt. While better informed than the average bystander to crime, they are almost as powerless.
Contrast this with Sleepy Hollow (also from Fox) and Continuum (SyFy), both of which premiered two years prior to the Minority Report series and both feature a hero-out-of-time. Neither Captain Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) nor Protector Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) begin their adventures so far behind the proverbial 8-ball as does Dash. They do, however, have to find an ally in the present police force: Lt. Grace Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster), respectively.
Dash finds his partner in Detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good). Given her choice of career and her skill set, she is the real hero of Minority Report. Dash serves only part of the role he did in the film and as comic relief. A broader character arc could be added in any subsequent episodes. Dash could become more of an equal partner to Detective Vega in a montage open of Season Two.
The second problem is less easily fixed. Delivering a believable future does require a film or television series to show us something new. The technology must either be believably better than current real world cutting edge or there must be a post-apocalyptic reason within the plot for its absence.
Spielberg, who is one of the executive producers of the series, had sought the advice of a number of scientists in order to help make the world of the Minority Report film adaptation more believable. Borenstein seems to have misplaced this memo as well; the series does not read like it could be 50 years in the future. The technology and events both seem part of a world too near our actual present.
And perhaps that should have been the premise for the plot.
The 24-hour news cycle provides a near constant report of such societal concerns as police brutality and militarization, of drones and surveillance, and of the ramifications of corporate personhood. In the case of the latter and the strong desire of companies to privatize everything and every service, even the doctrine of self-defense could change drastically.
All of these factors (and many more unlisted here) have the potential to redefine justice, civil rights, safety and security. It doesn't take psychic powers to anticipate a potential dystopia. These factors and concerns could have provided a profoundly entertaining and thought-provoking series, presumably yielding higher ratings.
Between one in three and one in four Americans believe that there are people who are precognitive. A similar percentage of psychologists think that psychic powers are impossible. Without taking sides—as we’re dealing with fiction, and in that environment the ability to see the future is a fantasy—Minority Report should have given us a better demonstration of that fantasy. We do not have to see a grand and glowing future, nor can we expect one in a crime drama.
If the sixth sense is knowing right from wrong, heroism includes acting accordingly: to wit, choosing good! We don't need to be like Dash—feeling incomplete and inadequate, however, special and unique. The real crime here—fiction or not—is waiting for a fully-formed, supernaturally gifted hero to arrive, without any assembly required, and rescue us from ourselves.
Society is the sum—not the average—of what each member does (good or evil) with each choice, every day. And the definition of good in a secular world must be defined and perpetually revised by consensus. Minority Report could have been a captivating view of today’s society, as dramatized commentary blended with brainstorming about potential solutions.
The tag line for the series could have been:
“Future crime is what we do not do today.”
Thom Truelove is the co-founder of Psych Wing (a group developing short films set primarily in the sci fi genre) and a collaborating partner on future sci fi/fantasy novels with gothic Victorian fantasy author Leanna Renee Hieber (Tor Books).
As an essayist, his work has been picked up by such anthologies as the forthcoming “The Book of Starry Wisdom: Apocrypha of Lovecraft's Cthulhu” (edited and produced by Simon Berman). You are invited to visit Thom's blog, “Surfing the Zeitgeist” at thomtruelove.com.