TV Review: ABC Gives Canadian ‘Motive’ to Mystery Fans

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CHICAGO – I know — Another mystery show, right? When do we grow tired of mystery after mystery? Other cultures have to be amazed at our obsession with murder and the people who solve crimes. While I feel no genre is more glutted with filler than this one, ABC’s “Motive,” an import from Canada a la “Rookie Blue” and “Flashpoint,” isn’t half bad. It has a strong cast and decent mystery plotting. My exhaustion with shows like this hurts the program overall but if you’re into mystery shows, you could do a lot worse. Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0

Daniel Cerone, the executive producer of “Dexter” and “The Mentalist,” delivers “Motive,” a show built around a nice hook that keeps viewers engaged through the episode. In the very first scenes, you see a person labeled victim and one labeled killer. In the two episodes available for press, how these two people would take on these roles isn’t immediately obvious and so the hook is in trying to figure out the motive. In tonight’s series premiere, how does the bullied student become the killer of the nicest teacher in school? In Thursday’s second episode, we see that a teen girl is the victim and a man running for elected office is the killer. Was he sleeping with her? Did she discover something about him? The concept of “Motive” works and a lot of TV is about the hook. How do we keep viewers from opening scene to last? “Motive,” as proven by its notable success in Canada, does a good job of that right in its format.

Photo credit: ABC

And so it’s easy to wish that the execution was as strong as the conceptual hook. There’s nothing notably wrong in “Motive,” more just a collection of things that keep the show from living up to the most entertaining mystery shows on the air (“Castle,” “Bones”). Leads Detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman, recently of “The Killing”) and Detective Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira) are effective but their banter isn’t as witty as audiences demand from their modern crimefighting duos. There’s so much emphasis on the twists and turns that get us from Victim/Killer to crime (the show alternates investigation and flashbacks) that the cast isn’t even allowed much screen time. Efforts to expand on the characters like giving Flynn a son (Cameron Bright) and casting Lauren Holly as a medical doctor feel too slight. The structure forces SO much time on two new characters every week that it’s going to be difficult to get to know the crime solvers. Imagine if “Castle” or “Bones” were half flashback to two new characters every week.

The thin approach to character is certainly through no fault of Lehman. She’s charming, beautiful, and much better here than she’ll be given credit for being given the show’s emphasis on the crime instead of the detective. Ferreira gets a little less screen time and development but he certainly isn’t bad. It’s hard to believe anyone falling in love with this team like they have the ones on “CSI” or “NCIS” but the cast isn’t to blame. Like most TV, it’s all about the writing.

“Motive” is a tough show to review. There’s nothing to hate here. The mystery plotting is strong, the lead is charismatic, the hook will get you. However, there’s also not much to love. The characters are thin, the show feels overly familiar, the crime solving team isn’t interesting. It’s a fastball down the middle. How much you like the genre will determine whether or not you want to hit it.

“Motive” stars Kristin Lehman, Louis Ferreira, Lauren Holly, Roger Cross, Brendan Penny, and Cameron Bright. It premieres on Monday, May 20, 2013 at 9pm CST before moving to its regular time slot on Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 9pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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