Public Service Announcement 54 of 2019: Instinct, Franco Building

I really wanted to like Instinct more than I do. I really, really, did. I even watched the first season all the way to the end. Unfortunately, this CIA-operative-turned-professor-turned-police-consultant procedural didn’t quite work for me, notwithstanding the presence of Alan Cumming in the lead role, and an interesting performance from Bojana Novakovic as the Beckett to his Castle. Even more unfortunately audiences seem to agree – this second season is also the last. A bit of a wasted opportunity (tonight, 9pm, Sky Witness).

More excitingly, though, tomorrow night BBC Four has Franco Building, a documentary about the architectural legacy of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, presented by the very great Jonathan Meades, a writer and film-maker of the highest calibre. This finally completes Meades’s remarkable quartet about Western Europe’s four most significant 20th century dictators: 1994’s Jerry Building (the architecture of the Third Reich); 2006’s Joe Building (ditto, but Stalin); and 2016’s astonishing Ben Building (Italian modernism during the Mussolini era). Some people don’t like Meades’s idiosyncratic presenting style, or his views on modernist architecture, but these people are idiots who shouldn’t be trusted. I fully expect this to be one of the television events of the year (Tuesday 27 August, 10pm, BBC Four). 

 

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Instinct s1 ep 13

After For the People and 9-1-1*, Instinct was the third of Sky Witness’s big new launch shows. And I was looking forward to it: a snappy but undemanding procedural with Alan Cumming as the lead sounded very much like my jam. However, it kind of wasn’t. It isn’t a terrible show, but it isn’t a particularly good one, I’m afraid.

This season finale is fairly typical, in that the setup is quite promising: an editor is strangled in the office of her publishing house, and although it’s made to look, superficially, like a suicide it evidently isn’t. The number one suspect is then found dead having been killed in the same way. But then it tails off. The baddies are very obviously two dudes from a silly secret society called the Lambsmen, whose members set their watches five minutes fast. (I’m guessing that the Lambsmen are therefore based loosely on Skull and Bones, who reputedly do the same.) By about thirty minutes in I truly didn’t care who the perps were, and the plotting and dialogue weren’t encouraging me to take more of an interest.

In fairness, the show genuinely surprised me once, when at the end of the previous episode Lizzie and Julian suddenly made out. As you know Unpopcult is always alert to the possibility of the ship,. so the fact that Julizzie hadn’t even occurred to me shows either that I wasn’t paying attention, or that the characters had zero chemistry and the writers hadn’t bothered to set it up properly. Either way it tells a tale.

After thirteen so-so episodes the biggest Instinct mystery of all might be why I kept going until the end of the season. I did, which suggests it was sufficiently diverting to keep me watching, but I’m not sure I’ll return for another go.

*9-1-1 is on DEMON form at the moment, incidentally. That episode where the guy proposed marriage and got stuck in the escalator, the other guy got stuck between buildings, and hot single dad Eddie couldn’t get childcare sorted out? My GOD.

Instinct s1 ep 1

There isn’t much that’s new about Instinct: it is, essentially, another variant on the Sherlock Holmes story. Our super-detective this time is Dr Dylan Reinhart (Alan Cumming), presently an academic with an interest in behavioural psychology. He rattles off some instant Holmesian analysis at his first meeting with Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic), who he correctly deduces to be a NYPD detective. But how does he know she’s a…? “Oh, come on. The I-don’t-care-how-I-look pantsuit, the humdrum flats, the almost total absence of…”. You get the picture, and you got the picture in House and The Mentalist, never mind in Elementary and Sherlock.

Dylan is also the author of a book about psychopaths, and Lizzie is in his lecture hall in the hope of persuading him to help with her investigation into a particularly nasty and bizarre murder. Initially he refuses. But that wouldn’t make much of a show, and even as the corpses start piling up he agrees to help. He does, though, need to keep this a secret from his husband Andy (Daniel Ings) because, as well as being an academic, author, and now a police consultant, Dylan used to be a CIA operative, and he seems to have promised Andy that he’d give up the dangerous stuff. Insofar as he has a Secret Pain that appears to be it. (As promised in pre-broadcast publicity Dylan’s sexuality is no big deal; it’s just there. Well done, CBS. Representation matters.) Lizzie’s Pain is more substantial – the murder of her last partner – but it isn’t much of a Secret as it’s revealed before the end of the episode. Naveen Andrews (Sayid in Lost) drops in as Julian, one of Dylan’s old CIA contacts, now freelancing as the obligatory tech guy.

Of Sky Witness’s three big new American dramas I thought this the least satisfactory. There’s a fair amount to like: the plot is pacy and entertaining in a ridiculous sort of way – the killer, at the scene of each murder, leaves a playing card which is a clue to the next victim – but the baddie was screamingly obvious as soon as s/he appeared. And the script is good in places, but very clunky in others. It’s the first episode so, in fairness, some allowance has to be made, but there’s a lot of exposition. Much of it comes from Lizzie, who, after summarising Dylan’s CV to his face for our benefit, then casually reminds her boss and BFF, Jasmine (Sharon Leal), that she’s “the youngest lieutenant in the department’s history”, something of which Jasmine is presumably well aware.

On balance, though, I’ll give it another episode or two before making a final decision on whether to become a regular viewer or not. This is probably because of the leads: I’ve been a fan of Cumming for 30 or so years now, dating back to his days in cabaret act Victor and Barry. Novakovic, meantime, is an appealing and ever-so-slightly off-kilter screen presence: I spent most of the episode trying to work out where I’d seen her before, but a review of her filmography would suggest that she’s new to me. The two of them work well together, and make Instinct worth watching.