Is ABC’s ‘Motive’ the New ‘Columbo’? Heck, yes.
I am totally digging the CTV Canadian import, ‘Motive’ on ABC whose season finale airs this week. ‘Motive’ follows lead detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman), her partner Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira), their newbie detective Brian (Brendan Penny), and their forensic scientist Betty (Lauren Holly) as they attempt to solve that week’s murder mystery. Like any procedural, we see the crime and victim by opening credits. Unlike most procedurals, we know the killer early on. As each episode progresses, we watch the motive team solve the case and learn what drove the killer to murder.
Although she doesn’t rock a distinctive beige trench coat, Angie is definitely a post-modern Columbo. Like Peter Falk’s character, she charms the perpetrators with seemingly innocuous questions about their family, the day, the crime, etc. Then, right when they’re comfortable and she pretends to leave, she turns around for “one more thing.” Like Columbo, she forces the killers to out themselves through silent nudges and quiet hints until they all but give themselves away. If the motive doesn’t fit, Angie just keeps drilling down. Seriously, “one more question” is practically my favorite part of the show.
While ‘Columbo’ relied wholly on Peter Falk’s charisma, the talents of ‘Motive’’s four-person cast truly makes the show. Kristin Lehman (Serena Kaye, ‘Castle’) rocks as Angie. She plays the character’s casual curiosity and unwillingness to accept the obvious to the hilt. Louis Ferreira (‘Stargate Universe’) also kills as Angie’s rock-solid Watson. Sure, he might prefer the obvious killer or allow his faith/belief in brotherly bonds to blind him, but he’s still an awesome partner. I equally enjoy Brendan Penny as their eager beaver detective. Yea, he does the grunt work but his research always provides a new clue. Last but not least, Lauren Holly as their forensics scientist is amazing. I haven’t seen her throw herself into a role like that since ‘Picket Fences.’
All of the four leads do such a great job, I could easily see Holly playing Angie, Lehman playing Betty/Vega or Ferreira playing Angie. I wouldn’t mind seeing a wee bit more of Holly’s morgue doctor or more of Angie-Vega interactions using Lehman and Ferreira’s natural low-key chemistry. Whenever the show’s writers throw in mild flirtation or mild disgruntlement, I squee. Then again, this formula works. I don’t want the show to turn into the will they-won’t they hour.
They also have great guest stars. Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta in ‘Battlestar Galactica’) was awesome as a draconian art gallery owner with minor elitist mannerisms layered on top of charm. Whoever directs each episode pulls out the best from the best.
In addition to ‘Columbo,’ ‘Motive’ combines pieces of my other favorite procedurals – ‘Law & Order,’ ITV’s ‘Blue Murder’ (UK), BBC’s ‘Wire in the Blood’ (UK), and ‘CSI: Miami’. Like ‘Law & Order,’ the show focuses 85% on the crime and only 15% on the detective’s home lives. In these small glimpses, we learn Angie’s a single mom and Vega almost became a priest. Like ‘CSI: Miami’’s Dr. Alexx Woods (Khandi Alexander) and ‘Castle’’s Dr. Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones), ‘Motive’’s forensics physician comes with a little sexual healing. Like 'Blue Murder' Angie has an awesome flirty yet business-first partnership with her supporting detective. Like 'Blue Murder''s lead female character, she's hard on crime at work, but soft on teenage discipline at home. Like ‘Wire in the Blood,’ we see a diversity of victims and killers at all class, age and race ranges outside the 20-something SWF victims or 30-something SWM perpetrators favored by ‘Criminal Minds.’ Beware the little old lady, the guy in the wheelchair and the tiny grocery store clerk.
‘Motive’ shows people committing crime/murder that aren't inherently evil. They're 'good' people committing 'bad' acts out of misguided desperation. In ‘Motive,’ it isn’t just the stranger in the dark you should fear but your neighborhood grocery clerk, your brother, your father figure, your adopted child, or your pediatric surgeon.
So, even if you don’t think ‘Motive’ is the modern-day ‘Columbo,’ it’s a good procedural.
Check out ‘Motive’ repeats on Hulu and the finale on Thursday, August 29.