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.