'Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector': TV Review

Horrible title, average pilot.
1/10/2020

NBC's adaptation of Jeffery Deaver's novel has a familiar cat-and-mouse premise and solid performances by Russell Hornsby and Arielle Kebbel.

It's a good thing for Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector that I'm a TV series critic and not a TV series title critic , because Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector is as bad a title as any broadcast show has been saddled with in recent years, and I'm including Cougar Town and Trophy Wife. Yes, it was bad when the series was simply called Lincoln, because nobody's first thought when they hear "Lincoln" is "Oh right, the only Denzel Washington performance that didn't get him an Oscar nomination." But the revised title is a nonsensical mouthful that causes my tongue to break out in hives. It's awful.

As a show, Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector isn't awful.

It's based on a book by Jeffery Deaver that's fairly average, but elevated by an intriguing main character. The book was previously adapted as a movie that was below average, but elevated by an intriguing main character and a strong central performance.

It follows appropriately, then, that Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector is a thoroughly average broadcast drama with good lead performances from Russell Hornsby and Arielle Kebbel. There's very little inspiration to be found, but on a scale of semi-recent random NBC adaptations, it's better than The Firm or Taken and not anywhere near the league of Hannibal.

The series, adapted by Mark Bianculli and VJ Boyd, begins with Lincoln Rhyme (Hornsby) hot on the heels of the enigmatic clue-distributing serial killer dubbed the Bone Collector (Brian F. O'Byrne). Lincoln, a legendary forensic criminologist with the NYPD, is cocky and confident that he's about to catch the Bone Collector, ignoring pleas from his partner (Michael Imperioli's Rick Sellitto) to wait for backup. Naturally, it's a trap, and a bad fall puts Lincoln near death and leaves him a paraplegic.

Three years later, plucky NYPD rookie Amelia Sachs (Kebbel), dreaming of someday making the FBI, comes across a staged crime scene in a subway tunnel, a scene that has all of the fingerprints of a Bone Collector crime. Boasting an admirable attention to detail, Amelia finds herself working as the eyes and ears of the disgruntled, bedridden Lincoln, who yearns to achieve closure on the case that destroyed his life. Let the, um, hunt for the Bone Collector begin.

If you were looking for an NBC equivalent of Denzel Washington's starring turn in the 1999 feature The Bone Collector, Hornsby, who certainly could have been nominated for an Emmy for the Netflix miniseries Seven Seconds and an Oscar for The Hate U Give, is a very reasonable pick. Unfortunately, the writing for his character is of a piece with a dozen similar egocentric TV geniuses following in the long shadow of Sherlock Holmes (a mentioned inspiration here). The decision to open the pilot with a flashback and to weave in several additional flashbacks to Lincoln's earliest lessons in forensics means that the character's most distinctive element and relationships, his physical limitations, and his grouchy-yet-tolerant relationship with caregiver Claire (Roslyn Ruff) are nearly afterthoughts. Yes, Lincoln barks a bit at former underlings Felix (Tate Ellington) and Kate (Brooke Lyons), but not in any way that illuminates or justifies the awe people hold him in or fear they have of him.

It doesn't help that pilot director Seth Gordon's visual flourishes to illustrate the way Lincoln views the world — specifically, how his obsession with New York City is almost his superpower — bears an extremely strong resemblance to Gordon's visual flourishes illustrating how the main character in The Good Doctor sees the world. Those flourishes gradually were minimized on that ABC series, and I'm assuming they'll also eventually become non-factors on Lincoln Rhyme, which is a factor in how so many of these shows end up feeling so similar and script-driven. Based on the single episode sent to critics, this show's writing is nondescript — not bad but failing to capture the precocity that unites Lincoln and his psychopathic quarry. Hornsby and O'Byrne are left to build that dynamic through their performances, without enough help from the material and direction. Hornsby is very effective, if perhaps too likable, and I always enjoy watching O'Byrne's work, which is unexpectedly understated thus far. 

Kebbel is solid, even if her character is defined through clumsy exposition or through other characters' comments ("I know it's not PC for me to say this, Sachs, but you're crazy. Certifiable."). The pilot uses Amelia's relationship with her sister (Courtney Grosbeck) for tension-driven exploitation rather than personal dynamics. Imperioli, Lyons and Ellington are similarly solid and similarly underused.

Still, the pilot for Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector moves fast and efficiently sets up a workable series that could blend weekly procedural elements with an ongoing — and very familiar — serial killer mystery. It's not instantly gripping. But it's definitely better than its title.

Cast: Russell Hornsby, Arielle Kebbel, Brían F. O'Byrne, Tate Ellington, Courtney Grosbeck, Ramses Jimenez, Brooke Lyons, Roslyn Ruff, Michael Imperioli
Adapted for TV by Mark Bianculli and VJ Boyd
Airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC starting Jan. 10