August 30, 2013



Even among procedurals, ABC’s Canadian summer series MOTIVE was a bare-bones example of the genre–it was virtually abstract.  The show had a single gimmick:  at the start of each episode, the killer and victim were identified, so in theory the only mystery was why this person killed that one.  (Sometimes, as in the first half of tonight’s season finale, it cheated.)  The characters were just about as skeletal as the narrative.  Detective Angelika Flynn (Kristin Lehman) was what amounted to the lead, so she was permitted an occasionally-glimpsed teen son and a rough-and-tumble rocker attitude.  Her partner Vega (Louis Ferreira) was rumpled, and Medical Examiner Rogers (Lauren Holly) was nonchalant around body parts and sometimes flirtatious, and that’s about all that could be said for them.  Even they, though, were positively Shakespearean next to newbie Lucas (Brendan Perry) and Sergeant Bloom (Roger Cross), who might as well have been played by cardboard cut-outs.

The unrelated episodes that constituted tonight’s “2-hour” season finale were much the same.  The first, written by Executive Story Editor Katherine Collins and directed by Stefan Pieszczynski, had the cheat, in that it turned out the killer had inadvertently slain the wrong person, so there was no connection between perpetrator and victim to be figured out.  (Once we knew who the intended murderee was, it was easy enough to guess why she’d been targeted, since she made her living defending corporations whose pollution was poisoning nearby residents.)  The finale itself, written by series developer James Thorpe and directed by David Frazee, provided about 90 seconds of characterization wherein Flynn saw her son off on his first solo trip (to Paris), where he’d also see his birth father.  Also, much more randomly, it turned out that the killer in this hour was someone Flynn had voted (against her better judgment) to acquit when she’d been on his manslaughter jury a decade earlier, before she was even a cop.   Apart from that, the only thing notable was that the psychiatrist eventually revealed as the center of the killings, despite having a not especially ritzy practice, lived on a veritable estate that included stables and greenhouse, suggesting that the practice of psychiatry in Canada is truly a profession to be envied.

Lehman and Ferreira brought some hints of lived-in character and skill at banter to their roles on Motive, but none of it had much impact, since their parts were one step removed from being created by automatons.  The whole show felt like various coordinates of a mystery were punched weekly into a computer (cyanide poisoning + security cameras only on the lobby floor) and a script emerged ready to shoot from the printer.

Motive did little in the ratings this summer, but ABC’s Canadian production partner has renewed the show for a second season, and the American network probably pays very little for the US rights (airing on a broadcast network here increases the value of the property worldwide, so it’s worthwhile for the foreign producers to make the deal attractive).  That means the show could be back next summer; truthfully, if it returns or is replaced, the change will hardly be noticed.

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."