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Keeping Alan Cumming on CBS with 'Instinct'
March 18, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 

If you watched The Good Wife and thought Alan Cumming’s (top) Eli character was so much fun he deserved a show of his own, it seems CBS agreed.

And this being CBS and all, the network just happened to have a crime procedural with which to hook him up: Instinct, which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

Cumming plays Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a former CIA agent who, for appropriately shadowy reasons, quit to become a teacher. But when NYPD Detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic, below) seeks his help in a serial killer case, it takes no coaxing at all to whisk him back to where he clearly wants to be.  

Cumming and Novakovic are nominally the costars of Instinct, which is based on the James Patterson novel Murder Games, and Novakovic creates a good, strong, and interesting character: a cop tormented by the death of her partner and fiancé a year earlier.

Okay, so there may not be a single cop anywhere on TV these days who isn’t tormented. Needham’s still a good one. But in any case, as we enter the world of Instinct, Reinhart is first among equals. Cumming imbues him with the same smart, fast-talking and perpetually neurotic traits that defined Eli, and it works just as well here.

There are points at which Novakovic seems to be playing his straight man, albeit in a knowing way.

Speaking of straight men, Instinct also cleverly neutralizes the traditional “will they / won’t they” subplot of mixed-gender partnerships by making Reinhart gay. In fact, he’s married – to Andy (Daniel Ings, below), who also gave up the law enforcement life and now runs a nightspot.

Needham and Reinhart first meet when a serial killer starts imitating one of Reinhart’s books in the course of his work. Among other things, the scene of each killing features a clue to the next victim in the form of a playing card.

Reinhart finds this challenging and in an odd sense flattering. Needham, under pressure from the mayor, just wants to solve the crime.

A narcissistic crime writer wanting to play an active part in real-life police cases might make Instinct sound a little like Castle, except in this case Reinhart already spent many years being hands-on in the legal game. At this point he just misses it.

His CIA background also proves useful to Needham, since they have a complementary set of contacts and experiences that can help root out the hard-to-get information that often can crack a case.

Cumming and Novakovic also have an easy chemistry, thanks both to the writing and their performances. From the first scenes, when each is understandably wary of the other, there’s also an undercurrent of trust, as if they have an instinctive connection.

The fact there’s no romantic angle leaves the writers free to explore other subplots, and given the direction of CBS procedurals in recent years, it’s probably fair to assume some of those will be lighthearted.

Whatever lies ahead, Cumming has nailed another role, turning a character who could be annoying into a character who’s charming.

While also leaving enough oxygen for his partner.

 
 
 
 
 
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