Although he's best known for his big-screen turns in both blockbusters (Independence Day, Jurassic Park) and indies (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Igby Goes Down), one of Jeff Goldblum's early leading roles was as an accountant turned private eye on the short-lived series Ten Speed and Brown Shoe, back in 1980. While he's popped up sporadically on the small screen since then — notably as Karen's nemesis/lover on the penultimate season of Will & Grace — NBC's new noir drama Raines, premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET, marks his first series-regular role in 27 years. As the title character, an eccentric but effective LAPD homicide detective, Goldblum is all quirks and quips. But when he suddenly starts seeing — and worse, talking — to the murder victims, his mental stability is called into question. But Raines isn't crazy (not completely, anyway). He isn't a ghost whisperer or a medium, either. His dead friends are strictly in his head. They're his own creation, a unique way for him to talk through the murders until he figures out whodunit and why.
"The whole idea of the show came out of my experience as a writer," explains series creator and executive producer Graham Yost (Boomtown). "When I'm working on a script, I often talk out dialogue to myself and imagine that I'm in a conversation. So I thought, 'What if I dramatize that for a detective?'"
"It was never meant to be supernatural," Yost continues. "Our show is more akin to Monk or even House. Raines is like a character from the hard-boiled fiction of the '30s, '40s and '50s, but he's in a contemporary mental crisis. I think that the aspect of his delusion is interesting because it ultimately becomes a conversation with himself. If, in fact, you're talking to a ghost that is actually the person who died, I don't know why you wouldn't just ask, 'Well, who killed you?' Because then you're done. In Raines' case, his hallucination of the victim only knows what he knows, and ends up becoming his partner on the case."
With his stilted speech pattern and sarcastic nature, which hides a sensitive soul underneath, Goldblum is the ideal actor for this peculiar part. "People always ask me, 'Who did you have in mind when you were writing the part?'" Yost says. "And of course the answer is me, because I see myself in all the characters when I'm writing them. But once I met Jeff, I thought, 'Well, that's it. He's perfect.'"
Although committing to a series after a quarter of a century on the big screen was a big decision, Goldblum was attracted to the project right away. "I love Graham," he says. "He's very, very smart and brilliant. I met with him and Frank [Darabont, the director of the pilot] a year ago, and there they were on this nice noir-looking couch in this noir-looking lobby. They said, 'In tone, we're thinking about something like The Long Goodbye,' and I found that delightful. I love noiry kinds of things. And I liked the idea of this character, who had been confident about his place in the world, who then has all these bad events happen to him. With all that loss, his mind plays tricks on them. It's a real inside odyssey that intrigued me."
The "bad events" Goldblum refers to include (Spoiler alert) the recent death of ex-partner Charlie (New York Undercover's Malik Yoba), who's still hanging around Raines' brain, and the breakup of his marriage. In fact, his life has been so tragic of late, that when his boss and friend, Captain David Lewis (Matt Craven of The Lyon's Den) hears that Raines is talking to himself, he sends him to savvy shrink Dr. Samantha Kohl (MIA movie star Madeleine Stowe) who calls him on his cynical shtick. A brainy civilian aide (MADtv's Nicole Sullivan), Raines' new partner (Enterprise's Linda Park), and his would-be nemesis, fellow cop Remi Boyer (stand-up comedian Dov Davidoff) round out the eclectic cast.
But as strong as the supporting actors are, this is Goldblum's show. And Yost is OK with that. "People are going to tune in because of Jeff and they're going to stay because the work he does is so great; then they will fall in love with the concept," he says. "To pat myself on the back, I think I've come up with a great character for him to play. My hope is that once viewers watch an episode or two, they'll see the emotional side of this show. I don't necessarily believe that ghosts will visit us, but I do believe that there are ghosts inside of us. And I think that's part of what Raines is tapping into."
Watch a video preview of NBC's Raines here.