March 18, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Instinct”


INSTINCT:  Sunday 8PM on CBS – Change the Channel

It’s a coincidence that the movie Love, Simon and CBS’s series INSTINCT premiered over the same weekend, but both are facets of a newish stage in LGBTQ pop culture:  the ordinary genre story that happens to have a gay lead.  In the case of Love, Simon, the tale is a suburban YA high school dramedy, while Instinct is a procedural cop show.

Unfortunately, since Instinct isn’t only a crime procedural but one that airs on CBS, the accent is very much on the “ordinary.”  Inspired by a book franchise co-written by human thriller factory James Patterson, the series version was created by Michael Rauch, a longtime writer/producer on Royal Pains, which managed to air for 8 seasons and leave no trail of itself behind.  Like a trillion other procedurals before it, Instinct brings together an idiosyncratic amateur detective with a more straitlaced professional, here specialist in abnormal psychology (and former CIA operative) Dylan Reinhart (Alan Cumming) and NYPD homicide detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic).  He not only eats pizza with a knife and fork but has an entire theory about why that’s the right thing to do; she’s in mourning for her fiance partner who died in the line of duty, and for their aging shared dog who will soon need to be put to sleep.  Soon enough, Dylan and Lizzie are exchanging banter, although since he’s gay it lacks the “will they or won’t they” element that usually features into these kinds of pairings.  (Pop culture hasn’t yet reached the place where Dylan could have a male partner to flirt with.)

The plotting in Rauch’s pilot script, about a killer who leaves playing cards with his victims’ bodies, is far-fetched in the kind of TV way that makes the killer’s identity instantly guessable as soon as the (seemingly minor) character is introduced.  Cumming is always fun to watch, but it’s hard not to feel sad at what a long step down Instinct is from the material he was routinely given on The Good Wife, and Novakovic does what she can with the mix of melancholy, enthusiasm and exasperation that the writing gives her.  Pilot director Marc Webb, not so many years removed from directing $100M+ Spider-Man movies, does a proficient job with the NY locations and the pace.

There’s something to be said for the idea that Instinct being so instantly forgettable is a step in the right direction in the bigger picture, because the very fact that its lead character is gay would have fueled a season’s worth of think pieces and controversy not so long ago.  But that kind of achievement doesn’t make the series worth watching.  CBS’s standards are low on Sundays, and Instinct isn’t off-putting in the way its predecessor Wisdom Of the Crowd was, so it may subsist for a while.  But we don’t really need weekly proof that a show with a gay star can be as mediocre as one whose characters are straight.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."