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Persons Unknown

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These persons are unknown.

Are you already experiencing Lost withdrawal symptoms? If so, you might want to check out Persons Unknown (NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m.), although be warned that it may feel like replacing heroin with Pixy Stix—a much weaker high. Like Lost, Unknown starts out with a group of strangers who find themselves in a mysterious, unfamiliar place after traumatic events, and who must work together to discover the secrets behind their new surroundings. In this case, seven people awaken suddenly in an eerie ghost town with no memory of how they got there. All come from different cities and have different backgrounds, and all have different motivations for wanting to get home.

The Details

Persons Unknown
Three stars

The first episode of Unknown offers a lot of teases at interesting mysteries, although it’s difficult to judge at this point if they’ll amount to anything. Unlike Lost, which established a number of memorable characters right away, Unknown is populated by one-note types at the start, from the guarded loner to the helpless party girl to the upstanding soldier. The first half of the pilot mostly features the characters yelling at each other about who’s responsible for their predicament, but as they explore more of the artificial hamlet, more enticing developments arise. No other show has ever made a Chinese restaurant seem so sinister.

Created by screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), Unknown owes as much to the works of Stephen King as it does to Lost, and from the start it’s working hard at scaring its audience. Sometimes that means creating an effectively creepy atmosphere (the smiling desk clerk who shows up at the hotel where the characters first arrive is quite unsettling), and sometimes that just means a bunch of shouting. And when the show shifts back to San Francisco, where a newspaper reporter is tracking the disappearance of one of the characters, it undercuts its own sense of otherworldliness with mundane procedural details.

Unknown’s opener ends with a suitably startling cliffhanger, but things could certainly fall apart quickly in future episodes. For now, it may be enough to give you that unexplained-mystery jolt you’ve been missing. Just don’t expect the feeling to last too long.

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