There are certain TV genres that are tried and true. There’s law shows, medical dramas, and above all else police procedurals. While at one time cops shows like Law and Order: SVU once dominated airwaves, plot driven scripted shows have since become the most popular shows on TV. CBS is trying to change this with Instinct, starring the always delightful Alan Cumming. While the series attempts to diversify the genre and makes positive steps for inclusion, it’s not enough to really make the show stand out.
Instinct was created by Michael Rauch, who is a TV producer and director best known for his work on USA’s Royal Pains. The series follows an unlikely duo of crime fighters, as they learn to get to know each other while also working in tandem to stop deadly criminals around New York. Alan Cumming plays Dylan Reinhart, a quirky author and professor who is not as clueless as he seems. Dylan is paired with Lizzie Needham (Shameless’ Bojana Novakovic), who is a smart and strong Detective that has a hard time holding onto a partner. They join forces to help solve crimes, and end up bonding along the way.
Unlike many other crime procedurals, Instinct is made up of some very interesting characters. Alan Cumming’s Dylan is layered and charming. The series is unique by crafting Dylan as a married gay man, making history for cop procedural genre. While he originally just seems like a quirky author and professor, his colorful past slowly is introduced throughout the course of the first few episodes. It turns out that he is a former CIA operative, which makes him just about the perfect partner for Lizzie.
Lizzie’s character is not quite as dynamic as Dylan. While the two have a great rapport, she doesn’t have nearly as much originality or personality to her character. Lizzie gets to have some vulnerability when it comes to home and by sharing details about her past. But it’s when the two stars are together that Instinct shines the brightest, as they’re complimentary and more woke than cop show protagonists typically are.
Instinct has a strong supporting cast as well, who will hopefully get more time to shine as the series gets further into its tenure on the air. Avid TV fans will recognize British actor Naveen Andrews as Dylan’s associate Julian. Andrews is perhaps best known for his role as Sayid in Lost, and was recently seen as a supporting role in Netflix’s ambitious but cancelled Sense8. He brings his signature intensity to the role, and he and Cumming have some serious chemistry.
The great Whoopi Goldberg also makes an appearance in Instinct‘s pilot as Dylan’s editor. His latest pages are dull and boring, and Goldberg tries to convince the protagonist to once again embrace his inner weird. This sage advice no doubt inspires Dylan’s decision to jump back into the world of crime fighting, allowing the quick cameo to have a more significant role in the show’s plot. CBS has put Whoopi front and center in Instinct‘s trailer, so it’s unclear if she’ll end up reappearing occasionally through the course of the season. But if manages to have some legs, it certainly doesn’t seem out of the question that the host of The View might return.
CBS’ new procedural shines when it highlights its starring cast members, especially Alan Cumming. Cumming’s Dylan Reinhart is a wholly unique character, who we learn more from with each episode. He’s openly gay and dressed to the nines, but he also rides a motorcycle and is excellent with his sidearm. Every scene reveals different shades of his character, and it makes sense why Instinct got ordered to series on the network.
But since Instinct is ultimately a procedural, the show never gets to put enough emphasis on its two leads. Each episode will bring a new criminal for Dylan and Lizzie to hunt down and stop, relying highly on both of their psychological prowess. Lizzie is actually a major fan of Dylan’s book, adding some cute fangirl moments for Bojana Novakovic to play with.
In some ways Instinct shouldn’t be faulted for adhering to the genre’s format. Procedurals are meant to focus on the guest stars of the week, allowing each installment to go in new and exciting adventures. But the entertainment world is currently focused on serialized storytelling, with entire universes forming and crossing over with each other. This shift in perspective may be hard for TV audiences to get past while watching Instinct, especially with the solid performance coming from Alan Cumming. Combine the procedural format with its massively popular competition on Sunday nights, and Instinct might not be exciting enough to have a long run.
6 / 10 stars
Instinct premiers March 18, 2018 on CBS. In the meantime, check out our midseason premiere list to plan your next binge watch.