There’s a good reason why they call shows like Motive police procedurals. It’s the same damn thing episode after episode, season after season until it bites the dust. They’re all essentially the same too—someone is murdered and then we follow the cops to find out who did it and why.
Each one of these shows has their quirks though. In Motive’s case it’s that it puts the horse before the cart in some regards and shows us who did the crime to start, leaving the hook to be why. [Yes, yes, I know Columbo had a similar concept as well. Calm down.] Since the main reason we’re tuning in is to find out why someone committed a crime, the show makes use of flashbacks, and thankfully they’re not too hard to follow compared to other shows. We get flashbacks of some things that sparked the crime and of course the crime itself. We also get to see the perpetrator squirming hours or days before they are caught and the cops trying to piece everything together. That might not sound terribly interesting or revolutionary if you’ve sat through many of these types of shows before (especially Columbo), but Motive unravels the mystery so well that it’ll likely be harder to tear yourself away from it than you’d think.
Motive also threads carefully, not giving us too much to start or too little—it’s just the right balance to keep the audience from changing the channel. I’d imagine it’s quite hard to find that balance and I can appreciate how masterfully they seemed to have done so and the way they make it seem effortless.
Like most other modern Canadian dramas, it’s hard to distinguish Motive from its American or British counterparts—it looks really polished. [Its nifty way of transitioning between scenes by morphing a closeup of a character from one scene to the next is quite something.] The acting on Motive is stellar as well—top-notch stuff. [It’s impressive how the lead character, Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman), looks like such a badass in nearly every single scene.] The writing doesn’t stand out much though, but that’s not to mean it’s bad, it maybe a good thing. Writing that’s too clunky, or conversely too grandiose becomes distracting and pushes the story to the back burner. However, I found it a bit odd to have one of the characters say, “When I saw him first, I thought he was just a homeless man, I don’t mean just…” when describing coming across a victim. It has a bit of an only in Canada feel. I mean where else would someone backtrack/apologize for saying, “just a homeless man” after just coming across a dead body?
One of Motive’s flaws is its title sequence (at least the one in the episode I reviewed.) It was about five seconds long (maybe even shorter), and the theme song wasn’t a theme song, it was more of a sound logo. I’m not too sure if it was just cut down to that because they had a lot of story to tell for that particular episode though. Many shows cut down their themes to a few seconds when the episode runs long. New Girl’s theme, for example, sometimes gets cut down to five words (“Who’s that girl? It’s Jess!”), but at least that’s a song. Motive deserves better than what it has and adding some music would be a great start.
Other than that, my only main fault with Motive is not really with Motive itself but just with the over saturation of the procedural/cop show/crime drama genre. CTV/CTV Two has Motive, The Listener and Played as original series and they just recently put Flashpoint out to pasture. Then there’s CTV’s imports The Mentalist, CSI, Law and Order: SVU, Blue Bloods, Intelligence, Criminal Minds, Person of Interest, Unforgettable and Grimm, and that’s just CTV/CTV Two, I didn’t even touch Global, CBC or City yet. It just makes you want to say enough already, there’s way too much of the same old on TV. You can dress it up all you like by giving a lead telepathic powers, or making them able to remember everything, or by going with the CIA, or the NYPD, but it’s essentially the same damn thing—cops chasing bad guys.
You have to wonder why people are so interested in these shows. I suppose it’s because they’re the television equivalent of comfort food. They’re not particularly good for you, but you can take solace knowing it will hit the sweet spot. For police procedurals, that sweet spot is that in the end the bad guy is going to be caught.
It may also be easy to take fault with Motive with the way it seems to be ashamed it’s Canadian. You see generic names like “Metro Police” on buildings and cars. I had a hard time telling where it was set at first and I had to look online to figure it out. That’s when I found out it’s set in Vancouver. I initially thought Toronto at first, and for viewers watching this on ABC in the summer, I guess they’d assume it’s Anycity, USA.
If you watch and listen carefully though, you’ll notice that it is indeed set in Vancouver. For example, The One Pinnacle Living False Creek construction site in the episode “Deception” is a real condominium (despite its fakeish sounding name), and False Creek is a real neighbourhood in Vancouver. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll even hear a character name-drop Surrey. The police cars also look a bit like the ones the Vancouver Police use, but they’re not exact replicas, and of course, the real cars proudly say “Vancouver Police” opposed to Motive’s generic “Metro Police.”
I’m assuming downplaying the Vancouver setting was a deliberate choice made to make the series easier to sell abroad because for some reason people think Vancouver isn’t as attractive as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, or Las Vegas. However, that didn’t stop Continuum (which I reviewed recently) to go out of its way to hide its Vancouver setting. It’s quite obvious that Continuum is set in Vancouver and it actually uses the Vancouver police logos in some scenes. It’s something I would love to see in Motive.
If we’re going to compare Motive to another Canadian series though, I should bring up CBC’s freshly cancelled Cracked. Cracked’s gimmick was that it followed crimes that were somehow tied to mental illness, so usually when the mystery unravelled you wound up feeling sorry for the perpetrator. Motive winds up in the same place.
Since the mystery is why the crime took place, it can’t just be a bad guy did it because he’s a bad guy—it’s forced to be more sophisticated than that—there has to be a specific reason. Once you know the reason behind the crime and how the perpetrator justified it, Motive becomes a downer, sometimes more than that—a heartbreaker. They could simply be good people who did a horrible, horrible thing.
Minor flaws aside, I think CTV has a real winner with Motive. It may not bring anything substantially fresh to the scene, but it’s still a great ride and a show you can easily get into when “there’s nothing else good on.”
Episode reviewed: Deception
Motive airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CTV