The 2012-13 TV season doesn't end until Wednesday but already the broadcast networks are jumping into summer mode debuting a Canadian import (ABC's "Motive") and a homegrown burn-off sitcom (Fox's "The Goodwin Games") tonight.
"Motive" (10 tonight, then moves to 9 p.m. Thursday) is another procedural crime drama with a format twist that ABC touts but but the difference worth paying attention to is the casualness with which the police investigators go about their business investigating murders. It's completely believable that cops would get a bit jaded and treat a crime scene like a day at the office, yet it's not a portrayal you see very often on TV cop shows.
For that alone, "Motive" stands out a bit. It doesn't reinvent the genre by any stretch but this lighter tone is noteworthy.
The big format shift is less of a revelation: Instead of viewers waiting until the end of the episode to learn who the killer is, we're shown up front the identity of the killer and the victim. From there to the end of the episode that explains why the killer did it, there's a lot of jumping back and forth through time as the pieces of the puzzle come together. If you're a fan of journeys rather than endings, "Motive" is for you. But if you like to play a guessing game about the mystery, well, you may be out of luck.
Detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman, who last played a campaign adviser on "The Killing") and her partner, Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira, formerly Justin Louis of "Stargate Universe"), are the ones putting the pieces together as they chase down the killer. In the premiere, that killer is a high school student.
Flynn has a son (Cameron Bright) so "Motive" does go home with her a bit but it's mostly about the case. "Motive" is most interesting when Lauren Holly ("NCIS") is on screen as Dr. Betty Rogers, a medical examiner with a wicked sense of humor."Morbidity suggests he sprouted wings two-to-three hours ago," Dr. Rogers says when assessing a dead body.
Read about "Goodwin Games" after the jump. ...
Just as "Motive" is not awful, Fox's "Goodwin Games" (8:30 tonight) seems like it deserves better than a summer burn-off. True, it may be a little too high-concept, but it held my attention much better than plenty of other, much worse TV comedies.
From three of the writers of "How I Met Your Mother," "The Goodwin Games" follows three siblings -- Henry (Scott Foley, "Scandal"), Chloe (Becki Newton, "Ugly Betty") and Jimmy (T.J. Miller, "She's Out of My League") -- who have to compete with one another to inherit a fortune left behind by their recently deceased father, Ben (Beau Bridges).
Ben recorded a whole series of videotaped reactions to his kids' choices in the games he set up for them to play in order to win his fortune.
Granted, this high-concept premise seems like it would work better in a one-shot film than in a weekly series, but that's true of half the shows the networks develop these days.
And "The Goodwin Games" benefits from a terrific cast. Newton is always a hoot and Foley shows new colors as a Type A, emotionally constipated doctor. But it's Miller who steals the pilot -- just as he stole the show on "Carpoolers" a few seasons back -- even though at times it sounds like he's channeling Adam Pally from "Happy Endings."
"The Goodwin Games" is certainly more entertaining than Fox failure "Ben and Kate" was, but it's also unclear where Fox could have put "Goodwin Games" on its schedule; there are no natural companion series already airing on Fox. And that's probably why it's airing in the summer.