The publicity notes for Instinct suggest it makes US history for having “the first gay lead character in an hour-long broadcast drama.”
While that sounds too unlikely to be true, I must admit I’m struggling to think of another. Yes cable TV has had many but that’s not network TV. Half-hour TV has had gay leads. And plenty of dramas have had principal characters as part of their ensemble. But a show built around the lead? Frankly that says more about America’s past than Instinct does about the present.
Nevertheless, one should applaud progress, which comes in the form of Dr. Dylan Reinhart (Alan Cumming) who is teaching Behavioural Science at a New York University when he is called upon by NYPD detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic) to help solve a case.
Needham needs Reinhart because a killer is bumping off victims by following his book as inspiration for random murders, and leaving a calling card in the form of playing cards.
Initially reluctant, he agrees to assist after his publisher (Whoopi Goldberg) insists he has lost his mojo.
“You used to be a man of action. Now you’re just a tweed jacket guy,” she tells him.
Reinhart is so adept at behavioural science he could make a feasible support act to Sherlock or The Mentalist, but his skills sure come in handy as the killing spree continues and a profile of “The Dealer” is formed.
Instinct also strays into the personal lives of its odd couple leads. Reinhart is married to barman Andy (Daniel Ings), is an ex-CIA operative whose former associate Julian (Naveen Andrews) can get him access to anything (is that using your Instinct or cheating?).
Needham is single, which makes a nice TV contrast to the gay character usually being single, recovering from her ex, and devoted to her pooch.
The two leads are experienced enough to make their partnership work, neither ever betraying their fake US accents. The best line comes late into the opening when Needham is struggling to shoulder in a locked door without any help from Reinhart.
“I was afraid breaking the door down for you would be disempowering,” he quips.
What’s nice about the drama by writer Michael Rauch is that Reinhart’s sexuality takes a back seat to the procedural element. He isn’t getting on his soapbox politically, nor singing showtunes (not that there’s anything wrong with that), nor is he suppressing his orientation. It’s merely there as a natural colour of his character. But should we be celebrating the fact that TV accepts gay characters as mainstream or criticising it for only feeling confident enough to embrace when it is so incidental ….?
And if the orientation is not pushed as a point of difference then Instinct is essentially asking us to accept it alongside every other procedural crime of which there is a plethora. Without it, this just fades into the background.
At the end of the day all you can really do is be true to your story and on that front this gets a tick.
Instinct premieres 8:30pm Wednesday on TEN.