Review: ABC's Canadian cop drama 'Motive' gets summer off to a slow start
The broadcast network TV season doesn't officially end until Wednesday night at 11, but it already feels largely wrapped up. Many of TV's biggest hits, from "NCIS" to "Big Bang Theory" to "American Idol," already aired their finales last week, and while several big shows aren't done yet ("The Voice" will run into mid-June), the networks have already started slipping into their summer clothes. FOX brought back "So You Think You Can Dance" next week and is beginning the Summer Burn-Off Theatre run of "The Goodwin Games" tonight (I hope to write a short review of that later today, and I'll definitely be discussing it with Dan on the podcast), and tonight ABC launches another of its Canadian import dramas: the police procedural "Motive."
"Motive" debuts tonight at 10 before moving to Thursdays in a pairing with "Rookie Blue." I don't know that I'd call the latter show especially good, but it's a watchable summer diversion, transplanting the tropes of "Grey's Anatomy" to a Toronto police precinct. (This summer, I'm so far behind on "Grey's" that I'll be catching up on the genuine article rather than Missy Peregrym and friends.) "Motive" has a more novel premise, but has no idea what to do with it.
The gimmick is that each episode tells you upfront who the killer and victim will be, then intersperses flashbacks to how and why the crime was committed while we watch cops Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman from "The Killing") and Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira, the artist formerly known as Justin Louis) investigate.
On its face, this isn't a bad idea. One of the big problems in our police procedural glut is that there aren't enough writers who know how to make whodunnits interesting every week, and the time and energy wasted on trying to keep us guessing could be better spent on sketching out the personalities of the perp and/or the victim. "Motive" attempts to do that, but instead winds up swapping out one uninvolving mystery for another. The characters don't feel any richer here than they do on CBS' various cop shows, and the series doesn't even commit to how much it wants to keep you guessing about why the crime occurred. Tonight's premiere episode leaves the specific reason for the killing until towards the very end while struggling to sketch a portrait of an alienated teen killer, while Thursday's episode couldn't be clearer from a very early stage about why our bad guy (played by "Rookie Blue" alum Noam Jenkins) did the deed.
I've liked both Lehman and Ferreira — and familiar co-stars like Roger Cross (the Disapproving Black Captain) and Lauren Holly (the medical examiner) in other things — but they are, like the rest of the series, functional and little more.
It's no mystery why ABC likes these Canadian imports: they're dirt cheap and tend to pull ratings that more than justify the cost, and help keep the lights on in the summer. But the idea behind this one is vastly more interesting than what's done with it.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org