TV preview: From CSI to super-spy

By Leena Tailor

In new US series Intelligence, our hero is a spy guided by a micro-chip implanted in his brain.

Marg Helgenberger as Lillian Strand in Intelligence.
Marg Helgenberger as Lillian Strand in Intelligence.

When former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of the National Security Agency's global surveillance system last year, people were shocked, made to question what private information may be in the hands of the US government.

Yet in the age of smart-phones and social media, the world continues to spiral deeper into device-dependent communication, with little regard of where messages, information and private thoughts may end up.

It's an idea that former CSI star Marg Helgenberger hopes will make audiences sit up and think twice as she returns to television in TV One's Intelligence. It's about intelligence operative Gabriel Vaughn, played by Josh Holloway, who fights crime aided by a super-computer micro-chip implanted in his head.

"When all the leaks came out by Edward Snowden, first off some people were just outraged that the US Government was spying on all of our private information and that Google, Amazon and all these other companies may have even more information because they're doing all the data-mining," says Helgenberger.

"But the upside is that it caused some people to pause. People who posted lots online - especially young people because they don't even think about it.

"I think people need to have something that shocks them and makes them go, 'Maybe I need to think twice about sending that Tweet.'

"That's my hope for this show, that [exploring the effects of technology on] humanity will always come first."

Helgenberger plays Vaughn's boss Lillian Strand, the director of US Cyber Command, who assigns the super-human various missions to protect the US.

Strand appoints Secret Service agent Riley, played by Once Upon a Time's Meghan Ory, to accompany him on assignments.

Better known as Catherine Willows on long-standing crime series CSI, Helgenberger was drawn to the role of Strand.

"I love playing a woman in power. There are certain women I have in mind with Hillary Clinton being the number one person I was thinking of because she was just leaving the position of Secretary of State [when Helgenberger took the role].

"I thought of her and how every country she would travel to she would have these diplomatic relationships with each head of state and it was just mind-blowing how she pulled it off. It was inspiring.

"But I also thought there was enormous potential for this series to go so many places and ask so many questions of the audience about technology and how much the government should know and not know."

The show has drawn comparisons to Chuck and The Six Million Dollar Man, but producers say when they adapted the series from an unpublished manuscript, they wanted to highlight how changing technology is affecting society.

Ory admits she is guilty of needing "to step away from" her phone and enjoys going on "no-technology vacations", Holloway says he couldn't be more different from Vaughn when it comes to gadgets.

"I'm a nightmare for people because I'm terrible with technology and I'm not current, though I try to be. With a cellphone you can pretty much stay current even when you're as ignorant as I am, but I stay away from [technology] a bit.

"I still prefer human contact."

As for Helgenberger: "Jack Nicholson doesn't have a cellphone. That's all I've got
to say!"

Intelligence debuts on TV One tomorrow at 9.25pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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