9-10 p.m., Thursday, March 15

Detective Michael Raines sees dead people, which, you're probably thinking, isn't that much of a gimmick on TV these days. Dead people have been ratting out criminals to Allison Dubois on "Medium" for a few years, and Melinda Gordon of "Ghost Whisperer" also has weekly conversations with spooks.

Raines' visions are different and, to my way of thinking, a lot more credible. The dead people he sees are not ghosts. They are figments of his imagination. They are murder victims as he pictures them in life. The more he learns about them, the more they change to conform to the new information.

Because they are only figments, they can't tell Raines anything he doesn't already know. They can, however, get him to look at the facts from a different perspective. Couple that modus operandi with Jeff Goldblum's savvy and sarcastic performance, and you get a detective series that is charismatic and compelling.

Of course, Raines must remain delusional. In the opener, he is ordered to get therapy for talking to himself. We can only hope it fails.

Creator and exec producer Graham Yost -- schooled in complex characters from his work on "Boomtown" -- found the perfect actor for the title role in Goldblum, whose last TV series was "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe," aired more than a quarter of a century ago.

Goldblum has a knack for creating characters who seem so real and so natural that you can't tell that he's acting. He does it again with Raines, a keen-witted Los Angeles detective pushed to the brink when his longtime partner, Charlie (Malik Yoba), was gunned down in the line of duty. Now Raines works solo, but he constantly converses with an imaginary Charlie. Also worth noting is Matt Craven as Raines' compassionate and no-nonsense superior, Capt. Daniel Lewis. Working together, Goldblum and Craven create some of the most honest scenes in the genre.

In the premiere, Raines looks for the killer of a young woman (guest star Alexa Davalos) who dabbled in prostitution but, as it turns out, for an altruistic purpose. Next week, he sorts out the details of a young Mexican man who was killed not long after illegally crossing the border. Both stories are full of surprises, but the biggest draw is Raines himself, a heroic figure and yet cynical, solitary and mere inches away from a mental meltdown.

There's something else that's odd about Raines: He would seem to be more at home at NBC's corporate cousin, USA Network, alongside other quirky detectives such as Monk or Shawn Spencer of "Psych." NBC will run the first two episodes of "Raines" at 9 p.m. Thursday, then move the series to a potentially lethal slot at 9 p.m. Fridays. Note to NBC Universal execs: USA would be the perfect safety net if "Raines" can't carve out a niche on Fridays.

NBC Universal Television Studio
Executive producers: Graham Yost, Frank Darabont
Producer: Preston Fischer
Creator-writer: Graham Yost
Director: Frank Darabont
Director of photography: Oliver Bokelberg
Production designer: Greg Melton
Editor: Ben Rosen
Music: Steve Poccaro
Set decorator: Leslie Morales
Casting: Meg Liberman, Irene Cagen
Michael Raines: Jeff Goldblum
Charlie Lincoln: Malik Yoba
Capt. Daniel Lewis: Matt Craven
Carolyn Crumley: Nicole Sullivan
Michelle Lance: Linda Park
Remi Boyer: Dov Davidoff
Sandy Boudreau: Alexa Davalos