Third-episode verdict: Raines

Raines Carusometer1-Caruso-Free

It’s been a long time coming, but here’s the third-episode verdict of Raines. The pilot episode started off well enough, with a Chandleresque take on modern crime investigations. At the time, I thought the show was a bit gimmicky.

Since then, a hefty supporting cast has been added – not for the better – but a more promising central tenet for the show has emerged, turning it into quite a smart piece of work.

Essentially, the show is a liberal’s wet dream: it’s an exploration and refutation of prejudice, using homicide as a device for providing the truth behind society’s pre-suppositions about people.

Imagine you knew nothing about a person. Then slowly you were given more and more facts about them and asked – in fact required – by your job to make conclusions about the sort of person they were. They’re young and male and Latino and found shot dead in the street, so were they a criminal? They’re young and female and found dead in a cheap motel, so were they a prostitute? What kind of person is a prostitute? What does she drink? What’s her relationship like with her parents? Was a homeless woman mad, godless or simply a loser? As more and more facts are added, so the picture changes.

The gimmick, of course, is that Raines, the detective played by Jeff Goldblum, talks to an imagined version of the victim during the course of the show, so we get to see how his impression of the victim changes as he finds out more about them. There are no car chases, no gun fights in Raines. With the likes of CSI: Miami proclaiming themselves to be victim-focused, when in fact they’re all about revenge against the perpetrator of the crime, Raines is actually carving out a new niche for itself as the most victim-focused of the current crop of cop shows, with the successful conclusion of each episode not so much about having found the criminal but about having finally achieved a rounded view of the victim.

How much you like the show depends a great deal on how much you like Jeff Goldblum, although not necessarily in the way you’d expect. I could happily watch anything he’s in, but others may have the usual objections against his somewhat idiosyncratic style. It’s clear that executives somewhere at NBC have come to the same conclusion, because the extra supporting cast, including Linda Park from Enterprise and Madeleine Stowe from 12 Monkeys et al, are clearly there to make Raines less of a one-man show.

This is a touch disappointing, since the supporting cast are a largely uninvolving bunch, with only Stowe offering a hint of personality. I’d have been much happier with Goldblum by himself and the victim of the week; it may well be that even though you may not like Goldblum, you might like the rest of the cast even less.

It’s a somewhat worthy show, too. There’s an overtone of “prejudice of the week” to the show and how well each episode fares dramatically is somewhat determined by how well that prejudice is explored. The second, which explored prejudice against illegal immigration, was a fine piece of work, with a subtlety you’re just not used to in mainstream television. But the third, which looked at homelessness, went for most of the same buttons as every other show on the subject, even if it did have a few original points.

Then there’s the overall theme, of course, which is the nature of madness. Why is Raines seeing dead people? Does it make him a better cop? What does it say about him as a person? It’s not being looked at in any real detail or with any degree of psychological rigour, but it’s still an unusual strand in an unusual show. And when the average cop show’s idea of characterisation is to give a character a hobby or a no-good friend, it’s good to see long portions of the show being used to give Raines back story, interests, and friends.

So despite being a little plodding and worthy, for its interesting character study of Michael Raines, loony detective, and its intelligent analysis of prejudice, The Medium is Not Enough declares Raines to be 1 or “Caruso free”on The Carusometer quality scale. A one on The Carusometer corresponds to a show in which David Caruso might try to appear, claiming to be the best choice of actor for the lead of any police drama. However, when faced with the very real possibility of having to appear opposite top calibre actors, he would pull out at the last minute, claiming a scheduling conflict or that the other actors had once slighted him in a game of triominos and could therefore not be relied upon.