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TV preview: NBC's 'Persons Unknown' is just another summer flop

PERSONS UNKNOWN -- Clockwise from left to right, Alan Ruck as Charlie, Kate Lang Johnson as Tori, Chadwick Boseman as Sergeant McNair, Sean O'Bryan as Blackham, Tina Holmes as Moira, Jason Wiles as Joe, Daisy Betts as Janet.
PERSONS UNKNOWN -- Clockwise from left to right, Alan Ruck as Charlie, Kate Lang Johnson as Tori, Chadwick Boseman as Sergeant McNair, Sean O'Bryan as Blackham, Tina Holmes as Moira, Jason Wiles as Joe, Daisy Betts as Janet. (Michael Lavine - NBC Universal, Inc.)

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010

Before you get too terribly excited about the "summer TV season," NBC wants you to know that summer is still an excellent place to dump a body where no one will notice. That would be "Persons Unknown," its new Monday night mystery drama series.

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A young mother is at a playground, when all of the sudden she's attacked, drugged and kidnapped. When she wakes up, she's in a hotel with six other strangers. Each is locked in his or her own room, but they figure out how to open their doors. (Hint: keys.) As they compare notes in a panic, everyone pretends not to notice that one of them is the guy who played Cameron in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and that he's now pushing 50. (Long nap!) Other than him, the rest really are persons unknown.

Then they realize that the hotel is deserted. So are the two square blocks of Main Street Americana outside the hotel -- nobody in the dress boutique, nor the sheriff's office, nor the coffee shop.

The whole place is a giant metaphor for NBC. If they try to walk too far in any direction, an implant in their bodies secretes a tranquilizer and down they go for another nap. There are security cameras everywhere, so they know someone's watching. Across the street, there's a Chinese restaurant filled with cooks and waiters who seem to be there to fix them dinner each night.

So let's review: You kidnap me and force me to stay in a hotel and sleep a lot, in a town with no noise, apparently nestled in the piney mountains. I can't go home and I can't go to work. There are no phones, no Internet and, hallelujah, no television shows to watch. I get to eat freshly prepared Chinese food every night. Nobody can find me. And if I try to run more than a half-block, I'll immediately fall into another long nap.

Okay, I'll do it.

Alas, the persons in "Persons Unknown" treat this as imprisonment instead of vacation. Rather than assemble themselves into a peaceful yoga retreat, and thus painfully bore whomever's watching them via camera, they begin a protracted parlor game, and thus painfully bore whomever's watching "Persons Unknown." They try to figure out which one of them is not to be trusted; how to escape; what's going on; why they were chosen, etc. It doesn't help that one of the captives gets a fortune in her fortune cookie that reads: "If you kill your neighbor, you'll go free."

"Persons Unknown" utterly fails to entice. It also comes much too soon after the abusive plot shenanigans and loose ends that defined the end of "Lost." Let's just go ahead declare all "Persons Unknown" as dead, stuck in the Hotel Purgatory. Get a room someplace else.

Persons Unknown (one hour) premieres at 10 p.m. Monday on NBC.


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