'Wisdom of the Crowd': Internet crime-solving for dummies

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Jeremy Piven (far right) in Wisdom of the Crowd. (Photo: Diyah Pera/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved)

Who’s watching Wisdom of the Crowd? A month in, this new Jeremy Piven series is proving to be one of the more naive and ludicrous shows of the fall season. Piven stars as Jeffrey Tanner, a billionaire tech genius in San Francisco whose daughter was murdered one year ago. The cops are stymied, so Tanner invents a program called SOPHE — everyone pronounces it “Sophie” — that can be downloaded onto your smartphone. Once there, you become part of Sophie’s crowdsourcing of information: Send in pictures or video of suspects, and you too can help a billionaire sleep better at night. In practice, however, the “wisdom of the crowd” in the show’s title frequently becomes vigilante justice.

Solving his daughter’s murder is the overarching framework of Wisdom, but, this being a CBS procedural, there’s also a crime of the week as well. You see, Tanner makes Sophie’s user information available to local law enforcement: “It’s a whole new era of social engagement,” says a harried police chief, foolishly grateful for all the internet trolls eager to misuse Sophie. This past Sunday, the crime was the death of a white nationalist who bore a resemblance in appearance and tone to the odious Richard Spencer. Tanner’s youthful Sophie team — they operate out of one of those laid-back, pinball-machine-decorated millennial-traps that pass for workspaces these days — scans hours of footage of the white nationalist rally for clues to the racist leader’s method of death. As these employees do so, they make the kind of quips that can only come from CBS script writers: “He wasn’t exactly singing ‘Kumbaya’!”; “Who are these idiots? Look at the tiki torches, it’s like a Nazi luau!”

Piven, apparently lulled into mawkish mediocrity after all those seasons as Mr. Selfridge, stalks through this show like a self-righteous version of Entourage’s Ari Gold. Wisdom of the Crowd partakes of previous CBS efforts such as Person of Interest (Sophie is a variation on PoI’s crime-predicting The Machine) and last season’s instant dud Pure Genius, whose Silicon Valley billionaire built a cutting-edge hospital to deal with grief for a family tragedy. Wisdom was created by writer Ted Humphrey, who’s worked on shows including The Good Wife. (In a winking nod to the latter, the fake search engine Chumhum flashes onscreen during Wisdom’s opening credits.) Wisdom doesn’t come anywhere close to Good Wife’s cleverness about social media; that show understood the phrase “wisdom of the crowd” as implicitly ironic — that, in the 21st century, a reliance upon tech-inspired opinions can frequently overwhelm facts.

Only four episodes in, Wisdom reached a new low on Sunday when Tanner posted a private video of his dead daughter talking to him, in the interests of “complete transparency.” Tanner’s ex-wife very sensibly squawks, “Our daughter has become clickbait!” (I wasn’t going to bring her into this, but Monica Potter — late of the excellent Parenthood — has been, unfortunately, enlisted as the ex-wife.) Confronted with this show’s absurd vision of ordinary folks becoming citizen crusaders by walking around staring at their Sophie app as though tracking down Pokemon Go, I can only quote Piven’s Tanner: “Talk about fake news!”

Wisdom of the Crowd airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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