Review: The troubling surveillance state of Jeremy Piven’s tech visionary in ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’
If there’s a show this side of “Man With a Plan” that can give you pause right from its title, it’s its CBS network-mate “Wisdom of the Crowd.”
This tech drama imagines the potential in a world that crowdsources its way to solving crimes, though a memorable rejoinder often attributed to pop cultural darling Alexander Hamilton — “The masses are asses” — leaps to mind, especially in an era of YouTube comments.
Leading this charge to disrupt the criminal justice system with mob rule is Jeffrey Tanner (Jeremy Piven), a grief-stricken, Steve Jobs-ian Silicon Valley honcho who abandons his colossally lucrative company and the fame it provides (his resignation is carried live on TV) to launch a crime-solving app called Sophe. The previous year, Tanner’s daughter was murdered, and though someone was convicted of the crime, he’s convinced it wasn’t the right man. Thus, a platform for the populace to solve crimes via smartphone is born.
If you can buy the former Ari Gold as a tech visionary in sneakers, stylish glasses and maybe one too many buttons undone on his shirt as he says things like “from humble beginnings come big things” and “I will also not be releasing my tax returns,” then you may be the right crowd for “Wisdom of the Crowd.” But Piven, for all the bad press he got after he entered the “Entourage”-osphere in 2004, can be fun to watch when he deploys the energy and comic timing he displayed on shows like “Cupid” and his run as John Cusack’s comic sideman onscreen in the ’80s and ’90s.
Here, unfortunately, he’s mostly a mix of smug, Peter Thiel-esque mogul, grief-ravaged father and contrite “terrible husband,” as his ex-wife calls him — none of which calls on Piven’s strengths.
Far more problematic, especially in 2017, is the series’ broader message. Rather than hint at Tanner’s hubris in empowering the public to leapfrog police procedure and due process — something that would yield a far more complex drama than we have here — the series considers it a pretty cool idea.
When a hastily explained “hacking” results in a driver for a ride-sharing service being wrongly implicated, his resulting beating by a vigilante mob of Sophe users is kept safely off screen. We see the hospitalized victim (Anousha Alamian) questioned afterward, but any moral questions that could have been raised for Tanner or the viewers in light of the app leading to such behavior are brushed aside like a bug during beta testing.
Even more troubling is the series’ fast-and-loose approach to civil liberties. “Privacy?” Tanner shrugs at one point, “We gave that up a long time ago so we can watch cat videos on our phone.” Maybe, but a Sophe recording our conversation as evidence surely violates a terms of service somewhere.
Ineffectively standing in his way is police Det. Cavanaugh (Richard T. Jones), who was the investigating officer on his daughter’s case has the thankless job of pointing out why there’s a problem in locating a suspect by hacking their phone. “Don’t do it again,” he warns, before following up on the lead. “You’re playing by rules that are obsolete,” Tanner scolds him, which feels like a warning to all of us.
In perhaps a misplaced reach for authenticity, the series also depressingly reflects the demographics of its Silicon Valley setting. The most prominent woman in Tanner’s professional circle — his second in command Sarah (Natalia Tena, who showed so much teeth as Osha in “Game of Thrones”)— has precious little to do beyond typing at one of many flat screens, suffering public berating by Tanner after the hack and, oh, yeah, sleeping with him at night. Let’s just say “Wisdom of the Crowd” doesn’t lean in.
The series is playing with a lot of timely issues, but, at least based on the pilot, not with a lot of thought. Maybe “Wisdom of the Crowd” will eventually explore the dark side of Tanner’s invention, as hinted when a smartphone-wielding flashmob corners a dangerous suspect at a train station, which leads to his arrest. But, judging by the surging music and an awestruck Tanner calling it proof that “people want to be part of something meaningful,” it doesn’t appear likely.
Tanner may be smart, but not unlike some sectors of the real-life Silicon Valley, which struggles to foresee the real-world consequences of progress, actual wisdom in this show is in short supply.
‘Wisdom of the Crowd’
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-DV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and violence)
Follow me over here @chrisbarton.
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