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March 12, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | March 12, 2007 |

I went into “Raines” with some mixed feelings. On the one hand, like many of you (I suspect), I’m sick to death of all the procedurals and shows of their ilk. And just to make matters worse, the main character here sees the ghosts of his victims (kinda-sorta, more on that in a bit), which sounds an awful lot like “Medium” and/or “Ghost Whisperer,” two shows of which I’ve watched a combined one hour of (and it wasn’t anything starring Jennifer Love Hewitt’s breasts). All of which adds up to a heaping pile of “I couldn’t care less.”

But that was counterbalanced by two names tied to the show — creator Graham Yost and star Jeff Goldblum. Yost is not only partly responsible for “Band of Brothers,” which is arguably the best miniseries ever, but he was also the man behind the tragically short-lived and underappreciated “Boomtown,” a show that was unlike any other procedural out there (until NBC stuck its fat fingers into the pot and took all the unique elements out so that it would be more like all the other procedurals out there). Goldblum, meanwhile, is certainly hit or miss, but in the right role he can be a lot of fun — and at first glance, this seemed like it could be such a “right role.”

So, as I say, I sat down to watch the show’s premiere (which you can catch on NBC’s site now, ahead of its airing this Thursday night at 10 p.m.), with mixed feelings. And 40-odd minutes later, I walked away with pretty much the exact same set of mixed feelings.

The premise of the show is that Michael Raines, an L.A. detective of the hardboiled-and-kinda-snarky variety, has visions. Seems he used to sometimes hear the voice of the victim whose murder he was investigating, but those voices stopped some time ago. However, now that he’s flying solo for the first time in his detective career (his partner retired after they were both involved in a big shootout several months back), the victims are talking to him again — only this time, they’re full-blown visual hallucinations.

But as we quickly learn, these aren’t ghosts or visions; rather, they’re “living, breathing” figments of his imagination. This conceit has two interesting ramifications. First, it means that these “people” really aren’t all that helpful in terms of directing Raines’ investigation because, as one points out to him, “I only know what you know.” So when he asks them questions while trying to figure things out, he often gets unhelpful replies like “I don’t know,” “You tell me,” and “As far as I know.” So, really, it’s a gimmick to help externalize the character’s thought process, which is an idea potentially rich with possibility, and certainly something a bit different than what we’re used to seeing.

The other interesting ramification of the nature of his visions is that, because these folks are his externalized visualization of the victim, they can change as he learns new information. For example, the murder victim in the series premiere is a girl named Sandy (played surprisingly well by Alexa Davalos, who I only knew from her less-than-ambitious performance in the unintentionally hilarious “Reunion”). Sandy initially speaks with no accent, until Raines hears a recording of the victim’s real voice and realizes she had a Texas accent — and suddenly Vision Sandy speaks with a Southern drawl. At first, her accent is very thick, until Vision Sandy points out to Raines that Real Sandy left Texas at a young age to live in L.A., so her accent really wouldn’t be that thick. He acquiesces, and her thick accent becomes more of a subtle twang for the rest of the episode. And sometimes, the changes can be more extreme, and may even be based on Raines’ subconscious assumptions and stereotypes. For example, Raines learns that Sandy may have been working as an escort and Vision Sandy is suddenly wearing whorish clown makeup, sneaking drinks out of a flask, and smoking. She again calls him out on the unfounded visualization, and he “allows” her to lose these whorish elements. (And in light of the ongoing discussion as to what constitutes a whore, I think it’s fair to refer to Sandy as a whore since she took money for sex.)

Of course, the ultimate question here is whether this show is any good, and as I say, I’m just not sure after one hour. On the one hand, Raines does seem to be a great role for Goldblum, as I suspected, and he appears up to the task. Because it’s clear pretty much right from the start that these visions are totally in his head, Raines is frequently questioning his own sanity and, mixed with the character’s natural sarcasm, this is a combination tailor made for Goldblum’s ability to be quirky, self-deprecating, and snarky. Take, for example, the following bit of dialogue between Raines and the police chief:

Chief: It’s good to have you back, Michael.

Raines: Is this where I say “it’s good to be back?”

Chief: Oh, no no no. This is where you say something clever to remind me how smart you are.

Raines: I’m rusty — give me a couple of days.

On paper, it’s nothing special, and in the hands of, say, two of the pretty-boy retards from “The Black Donnellys,” it wouldn’t be any better on the screen. But Goldblum is able to inject the “something” that this dialogue needs — with his tone of delivery, a well-placed beat and the perfect look — such that the exchange is entertaining. Similarly, because Raines “knows” that he is kinda nuts, he generally tries to go out of his way to find some privacy when he feels the need to talk to Victim Visions, so that others won’t see him chatting with himself. And that also provides for some light entertainment (despite the fact that he’s not always successful, as when the chief notes that “Boyer says he’s seen you talking to yourself”). My point here being, Goldblum is carrying the load well. And as I mentioned before, guest star Alexa Davalos also held her own, and one hopes future “vision” casting is similarly up to par. As for the rest of the cast, they were all perfectly fine, though none stood out (it will be interesting to see, however, if they’re able to incorporate Nicole Sullivan into more than the bit role she had in the premiere and, if so, how they blend her comedic talents with the show).

I also like that the show runs at a slow, easy pace, giving everything a chance to breathe, without the endless twists and turns that the “CSIs” and “Law and Orders” have relied on for years. Similarly, the style and tone of the show is a nice noir-lite, which serves it well, without the “CSI” forensics and fancy visuals. However, I was disappointed with the end of the first episode, where the tone suddenly got unnecessarily heavy-handed and a touch sappy. The overwrought drama of it all felt a bit forced, and the sudden change the tone has me worried about how the show will be handled overall.

And that worry is compounded by the fact that the show totally didn’t work in terms of the actual plot. Here’s NBC’s one sentence description of it: “When a college student is murdered, Raines enters a tawdry world to discovery the shocking truth.” The trouble is, the murder mystery wasn’t very exciting, the world Raines entered wasn’t very tawdry, and the ultimate outcome wasn’t very shocking. In fact, the tie-up of the murder investigation was relatively obvious and borderline ridiculous. As good as Goldblum may be, this show won’t be able to survive if the storylines all suck like this. The thing is, I know Graham Yost is capable of coming up with gripping plots that aren’t rote or obvious, as he dished out quite a few of them in “Boomtown.” And that’s ultimately why I’m willing to give this show another chance or two, to see how it develops. If the tone settles down in the right direction, and if the storylines improve, this could be a fine addition to my personal viewing lineup. I don’t think it’ll ever be anything great, mind you, but not everything has to be great.

However, I will quit “Raines” instantly if Goldblum ever again utters the phrase “sweet monkey love.” Nobody needs that on their television screen.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. And for the record, he does not see Vision people — when he’s talking to himself, it’s simply because he’s the only one who will listen.

You Talkin' to Me? Well I'm the Only One Here.

"Raines" / The TV Whore
Mar. 12, 2007

TV | March 12, 2007 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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