John Walker's Electronic House

Television: Raines – NBC

by on Apr.15, 2007, under Television

Last September I thought this was going to be the one to watch. Shocked that it wasn’t picked up based on the excellent pilot, tales of Jeff Goldblum’s loony homicide detective and his imaginary victim buddies seemed like it should be ideal murder mystery TV. The deceased appears to Raines until he can solve their crime, but rather than being ghosts, they’re simply the result of his own delusions, and thus a helpful muse for his deliberations. The pilot had fun with this, having Raines’ own prejudices toward prostitutes play on how the victim appeared, along with some very smart writing as Raines leapt to intuitive conclusions (identifying the father as abusive immediately, then conflicting his assumptions). Then there’s the nice reveal at the end that his Latino buddy and former partner is also dead, and seems to be sticking around in Raines’ brains.

The reappearance a month ago of the first episode, finally broadcast on NBC, had a strange surprise. Luis Guzman, who had played Jeff’s dead friend, was entirely gone, replaced by Malik Yoba as Charlie, his black dead former partner friend. Why the racial change? Who knows. Did it matter? Not really. People who love Guzman will be disappointed, obviously, but Yoba did a fine job, and the banter was just as fun, if not even more natural.

But then came episode 2, which pretended it was going to delve into The Shield territory with a gang-related crime, but instead flapped about aimlessly, forgot Charlie altogether, and became a remarkably generic murder mystery where the apparantly bad guy corpse was lamely given good guy status by the end. And already having the cerebral haunting felt like a gimmick they’d run out of ideas for. By episode 3’s moralising on the homeless – and despite the presence of the constantly great Laurie Metcalf as the bag lady with an oh-so surprisingly normal past (a lesson for us all there) – it was hopeless, Goldblum doing his best to apply his trademark meta-stammering to woefully barren dialogue. It feels like the scripts were found in a time capsule buried in the 1970s, hurriedly subbed to mention contemporary technology to disguise their age. I decided not to bother with episode 4, but I expect it was about the murder of a young tearaway who was being given a second chance by the local boxing club, one of whose staff turns out to be involved in some shady dealings with match fixing.

Most daft is the show’s constant desperation for you to remember that the apparitions aren’t ghosts. Goldblum’s increasingly awkward voiceover repeatedly states this for the viewer, just in case they’ve forgotten over the last ten minutes. But there’s only so many ways a narration can mention this before it begins to sound as if the show is cross with its viewers for not getting it yet. It’s like the fantastic Mr Show sketch about the pre-recorded phone-in show.

If anything, this drives home that the conceit probably isn’t good enough. In fact, wouldn’t it just be far more interesting if they were ghosts who haunted him until the crime was solved?

Sorry Raines – I wanted so very much to like you, but you were rubbish. As Jeff would say, “That’s one big pile of shit.”

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