In the opening moments of CTV's new crime drama Motive, we find out the who, when and where of a murder before the police even arrive on the scene.
There's only one question left: Why? And it's the search for this final element, as described in the series' title, that the show's producers hope viewers will find fascinating on a week-to-week basis.
"I've always been a 'whodunit' fan, and even more a 'whydunit' fan, because I grew up watching Columbo," executive producer James Thorpe said late last year in an interview on Motive's soundstage in Burnaby, B.C. "I really appreciate the way this format allows you to get inside the mind of the killer. This is not a show about the science of the crime -- we're not C.S.I. -- and it's not about the gore of the crime -- we're not Criminal Minds. This is a chance to spend some time -- a lot of time, actually -- with the killer, pre-crime and post-crime.
"Our show deals with average people, people who are just going through their lives, and at some point, events conspire and bring them to this place where they're either going to turn left, or they're going to turn right. On our show, they turn right, and that ends in murder, and we find out how they cope with that and what it does to their lives."
In that way, Motive manages to put a fresh spin on the police-procedural genre, laying out all the facts at the beginning of each episode and then inviting viewers to watch as the police -- led by homicide detectives Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) and Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira) -- piece together various bits of evidence that eventually lead them to the conclusion (and the criminal) that we already know.
The pilot episode of Motive, which CTV has given the coveted post-Super-Bowl time slot (Sunday at about 9 p.m.), opens with scenes of a high-school football game, during which a couple of slacker goofballs in the stands are shown harassing one of the marching band's drummers.
As the uniformed student seethes, the on-screen image freezes. "THE KILLER" is superimposed beside the teen's face. A couple of seconds later, the action shifts to a local tavern, where an off-duty science teacher is entertaining his friends with some tipsy karaoke crooning. Again, the action freezes: "THE VICTIM."
Another quick cut, and we arrive at the crime scene at the same time as Flynn and Vega -- the teacher is dead, bludgeoned to death in his own bedroom, and the kid is hiding in the home's attic while detectives and a cadre of their cop counterparts comb the house for clues.
What Motive does in the next 40 or so minutes, in a suspenseful and entertaining fashion, is connect the police with the killer. The crime will be solved; it's just a matter of finding out how.
"There have been so many procedurals that have come along in the past five or six years that maybe people are sated with the standard format or tired of the gimmicks and are looking for something fresh," Thorpe offered. "Well, our show is definitely fresh."
Motive may be fresh, but it isn't exactly new. The pilot script was written by American writer/producer Daniel Cerone (Dexter, The Mentalist) a half-dozen years ago; the original story was set in Los Angeles, but after being shopped unsuccessfully to several U.S. networks, the script eventually made its way north of the border and into the hands of its Canadian producers.
According to Thorpe, relocating the story to Vancouver is the best thing that could have happened to Motive.
"I think there's a lot about post-Olympic Vancouver that will surprise people," he explained. "We are now a dense, urban city of glass, and I don't think that's what people think of when they think of Vancouver. This show will showcase Vancouver in all its glory -- the first season, especially, is going to be sort of a greatest hits of Vancouver, from the urban cityscapes with the sea at our doorstep to the breathtaking bedroom communities of Vancouver. It really is a fantastic palette for the show."
Another element that differentiates Motive from current and recent police procedurals is the fact its main character -- Flynn, as portrayed by Lehman -- is a female cop who also happens to be the toughest "dude" in a testosterone-driven workplace. Unlike many other police dramas with female leads, Motive won't spend any time following Flynn's struggle to be accepted by her peers. As the series begins, she has already long since established herself as top dog in the squad room.
In addition to Ferreira (Durham County, Stargate Universe), the series also stars Roger Cross (24, Continuum), Brendan Penny (Whistler), Lauren Holly (Chicago Hope, Picket Fences) and Manny Flynn (The Twilight Saga).
Lehman, last seen in the dark AMC-cable drama The Killing, said one look at the pilot script was enough to convince her that this was a role she had to play.
"I really dig Angie; I love being her," the Vancouver-born actor said of detective Flynn, whose time is divided between solving crimes and playing single mom to a teenage son. "As an actor, I really want to work hard to do justice to her life... I think I understand her fully; everything about her is already formed, whether it's shown in an episode or not.
"If people are tuning in and they know right away who the killer is, then I have to ask what my relationship is to the audience's relationship with the crime. That's something that's very different, and it's taking all my energy and all of my mind to deal with."
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Starring Kristin Lehman, Louis Ferreira, Roger Cross, Lauren Holly, Brendan Penny and Manny Flynn
Sunday after Super Bowl (approx. 9 p.m.)
4 stars out of 5