'Instinct': TV Review

Standard network fare, lifted by Cumming.
3/18/2018

Alan Cumming is the draw in this rote CBS procedural, which gives him a lot of hats to wear and a license to be eccentric.

It's hard to not like a show with Alan Cumming in it, mostly because he's pretty likable in anything, even when his characters are not. CBS, sensing hit potential in a series that gives a more expansive sense of his personality, has made him the lead of Instinct, a police procedural in which he can be not only a gifted college professor lecturing knowingly and with great charisma on "psychopathic behavior," but also a best-selling author (with Whoopi Goldberg as his editor) and a secretive CIA operative with fighting and gun skills — and also openly gay and recently and happily married.

He wears a lot of hats and his outfits are impeccable. It's kind of a perfect Cumming vehicle.

The various jobs and eccentricities of the main character amount to a dream role, of course, and since Cumming is one of the executive producers, it's one he probably had quite the hand in shaping (though the series is based on the James Patterson novel of the same name). It's quite the match because the actor is a man of many talents and what better place than CBS, the best network at shaping entertaining procedurals, to show them off?

Of course, any familiarity with network procedurals means you understand that the leads always catch the perps, after dancing around various exotic and not super complicated plotlines, suspects and red herrings along the way. So the appeal of Instinct isn't so much in the predictable movements therein, but in Cumming himself.

It's a winning combination, if you like these kinds of shows.

The series pairs Cumming's Dr. Dylan Reinhart with New York detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic), who not surprisingly goes through partners quickly and is great at her job but not so great at her personal life, the familiar female detective/cop trope (though in the case of Instinct, it's not a series of bad decisions about lovers this time; her fiance has been killed, so she spends time brooding with her dog, who is also dying — give CBS credit for wiping out an unnecessary backstory).

Lizzie's boss, Lt. Jasmine Gooden (Sharon Leal), is also one of her best friends, so Lizzie can lean on her in times of stress and Jasmine will always be there with the straight talk. For his part, Dylan's reluctance to get back in the line of fire and even reveal to Lizzie that he was CIA eventually fades away and his work is aided by his close association with Julian (Naveen Andrews), a fellow spy who can get him access to things no regular citizen would have access to, thus simplifying any plot difficulties that might arise.

So, yeah, familiar, but you knew that when you signed up. Again, the allure of Instinct is Cumming as the lead in his own show (though here's hoping the series makes good use of Andrews, who is compelling in almost everything). It's helpful that Novakovic is also quite likable as the feisty dynamo detective.

All the elements are there, mostly because CBS knows how to do these efficient procedurals in its sleep. The only part of Instinct that is problematic, though the target audience probably won't see it that way, is that Cumming's effervescent personality, which leans toward frivolity and good-natured jokes, doesn't exactly fit with the gruesome crimes witnessed in the show. One moment there's a body that's been stabbed 52 times (yes, it's true) and the next there's Cumming looking so jovial it's a wonder he doesn't break into song and dance. But, hey, the disconnect is kind of an added bonus.

Cast: Alan Cumming, Bojana Novakovic, Daniel Ings, Naveen Andrews, Sharon Leal

Created by Michael Rauch, based on the book by James Patterson

Premieres Sunday, 8 p.m., CBS

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