Review: Motive 1×1 (CTV)

Why would you watch this?

Motive CTV

In Canada: Sundays, 9pm, CTV
In the US: Acquired by ABC for summer 2013
In the UK: Not yet acquired

In the never-ending struggle to come up with new crime drama formats, there are generally two methods of differentiation used by writers: character and gimmick. If you differentiate by character, you end up with shows such as Monk, Elementary, The Mentalist or Psych, in which someone over-laden with personality has to solve crimes while less interesting, more plodding individuals stand around filling up dialogue time and generally failing to solve crimes.

If you differentiate by gimmick, you end up with shows like Justice, Murder One, and The Whole Truth, in which quite dull characters stand around filling out plot time while the gimmicky plot mechanism that drives the show plays itself out.

In both cases, I should point out, you still need to have involving crimes and investigations or both techniques will be for naught.

Now Motive wants to have its cake and eat it, attempting to stand out from the crowd with both gimmick and character. The gimmick here is that as the show’s title suggests, it’s all about the motive: as much time is dedicated to why the crime was committed as to solving it, with huge chunks of the story told in flashback. But it also has character: no special character ticks here but cool, over-acting, intensely irritating detective-mom Angie Flynn, who’s just so down with her kid.

Does it work? Well, it stands out, but it’s forgotten that golden rule and as a result is still a very boring show that makes Cracked look like The Shield in comparison. Here’s a trailer: note, as with all Canadian TV shows, the contractually obligated appearance of at least one person from Stargate as well as Roger Cross from 24 (okay, he isn’t in the trailer but he’s in the show).

MOTIVE is an unconventional way to watch a crime drama unfold. Each episode of the new CTV Original Drama begins by revealing not only the victim, but the killer as well. It’s not a “whodunit,” it’s a “whydunit,” a question faced by spirited female Vancouver homicide detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) as she begins to piece together the clues from the crime. How are the victim and killer connected? What is the motive? As the mystery unfolds, the audience navigates a complicated maze of clues alongside the detective and her team.

In the series’ signature teaser, viewers meet the killer and the victim in two separate opening vignettes. This surprising format challenges both the lead character and the audience to solve the mystery each week. While Angie sets out to piece together a murder plot, viewers spend time with the killer both before and after the crime, giving them the opportunity to delve inside the mind of a criminal, and understand their motive.

Flashbacks to the killer and victim amplify the tension and reveal their shared backstory. The narrative focuses on the unique cat-and-mouse element of the series as Angie closes in on the killer, and the evidence needed to solve the crime.

MOTIVE’s disarming and street-smart lead character Angie Flynn doesn’t suffer fools or authority figures lightly. Leading criminals and co-workers alike down the garden path, they soon realize that taking this sexy and sassy force-of-nature at face value is a major mistake. Viewers will be entertained by Angie’s character, intrigued by her investigation, and emotionally invested in both.

Is it any good?
The show is essentially all gimmick, all character and not enough crime drama. Once you get over the flash, there’s very little left to make you want to watch any more of it.

The gimmick is also the show’s Achilles Heel: without wishing to be stereotypical, leave it to the Canadians to find another way to be touchy-feely and sympathetic towards murderers. So yes, we get to understand over the course of the episode what drove the murderer to commit the crime – there’s no question of whodunnit for the viewer to solve because in a move guaranteed to make you snigger, right at the beginning the characters appear on screen and giant overlays with “The Killer” and “The Victim” are slapped over them. But as the motive for the crime has to be revealed over the course of the episode, it becomes impossible for the show to stick with a linear narrative for more than a couple of minutes at a time, taking you out of the story so you never fully become engaged with it as you try to track what happened and when.

Then you have our investigative team, composed of two dull blokes and two flamboyant women. Now, I’m obviously against VAWG but Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) is so over-the-top, so poorly acted, so cool mum (“Hey are those real?” she asks about her son’s girlfriend’s breasts when she finds the two sleeping together), so saddled with dialogue designed to say “Sassy” but which really says “Mentally defective” that you’ll want to stab her by the end of the episode.

Contractually obligated Stargate: Universe guy who’s her partner is just gruff and grumbles; young guy is just young and naive – neither will make you want to watch this. That just leaves Lauren Holly as an improbably glamorous, Rizzoli & Isles-influenced, teeth-grittingly quirky medical examiner – which is odd, because I could have sworn at first Kristin Lehman was actually Lauren Holly. Roger Cross does appear, but he’s the understanding boss so doesn’t get much to do.

So that’s annoying, confusing gimmick that robs the show of drama married with irritating characters. What’s left? Well, not much. Because so much of the show is spent with finding the motive and showing our heroine taking her son off drag-racing, there’s no time left for police work. As a result, all we get is an inept attempt to search a house that has no tension because no one’s in any real danger, it being Canada and all; the police asking some questions; and that’s it. That is literally all that happens, beyond realising that if a really aggressive dog didn’t bark at the murderer, perhaps the murderer knew the dog and its owner quite well.

Motive has forgotten that golden rule of crime drama: if you do go for gimmick and character, don’t forget to include some actual investigation as well. Is it worth watching one episode just to see how the dramatic structure plays out? Yes. Is it worth watching anything more than that? Not a chance. After all, what would be your motivation?


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.