‘Motive’ Pilot & 1.02 Recaps: “Nothing Says Friday Night Like a Homicide”

The summer TV season has begun. Last week, ABC rolled out its new detective series ‘Motive’ in a rather peculiar two-pronged approach, with a “Preview” episode on Monday and a “Premiere” on Thursday. Why not just call the first episode the “Premiere”? I have no idea. Stranger still, only the latter episode seemed to get any advertising, as if the network was trying to bury the pilot. If there’s a reason for that, I can’t figure it out. I saw no significant qualitative difference between the two episodes.

The show is a homicide procedural, like a thousand others on TV. The gimmick with this one is that each episode announces right up front who both the victim and the killer will be. As the police investigate, not only do they have to find the killer (which we already know), more importantly, they also have to figure out why the killer committed the crime.

Kristin Lehman from ‘The Killing’ stars as smart-mouthed Det. Angie Flynn. Louis Ferreira from ‘Stargate Universe’ is her partner. They often crack wise while working cases, because that’s what cops on TV do. Lauren Holly (who once upon a time would have landed the lead in a show like this) and her current face pop in occasionally in a supporting role as the sassy coroner.

In the pilot episode, ‘Creeping Tom’, a douchey high school teacher (NKOTB superstar Joey McIntyre) is murdered by a student at the school. The kid, Tom, and his dumbass friend are “Creepers.” They break into houses at night while the residents sleep in order to snoop around and steal mementoes. Tom gets off on his invisibility. The teacher had found and confiscated his backpack and diary journal, which contained a record of all the creepy things he does. Afraid that the teacher would expose him, Tom snuck into the house to steal the backpack back. When the teacher woke up and caught him, Tom panicked and clocked him on the head with a sports trophy.

The second episode, called ‘Crimes of Passion’, ups the stakes a bit. The town mayor murdered his kids’ babysitter and framed the crime on her boyfriend. The girl had been having sex at the house after the kids went to sleep. One night, she accidentally knocked over a lamp and found a nannycam there. Panicking, she accessed the mayor’s laptop (which has a ridiculously stupid password) to delete the recording, only to discover that he’d been saving many such recordings in a spank bank folder, and worse, had been blackmailing other young girls into dressing up like the babysitter and having sex with him. When she threatened to expose him, the mayor stole her boyfriend’s car and ran her down with it.

After dodging a few red herrings, Flynn cracks both cases in short order to tidily wrap each up before the end of the hour. That’s quite a change of pace from ‘The Killing’, right?

The series is adequate time-wasting fare. Its production values are slick and its plotting is modestly clever, as these things go. Lehman plays a completely different type of character than she did on ‘The Killing’, which is nice to see. However, the show just doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from countless other police procedural dramas. The guess-the-motive gimmick isn’t enough to set it apart, nor are the characters compellingly fresh or original. Also, I’m getting pretty sick of flippant, smartass homicide detectives on TV. I feel like someone who deals with death every day ought to take that responsibility seriously.

‘Motive’ isn’t a terrible show. If nothing else was on and I came across it, I might watch another episode. But I don’t feel compelled to follow it regularly.

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