An eccentric ex-CIA operative is lured back into the world of law enforcement when a serial killer begins using his first novel as a guide to murder. Without any context, that sounds like the exact premise of ABC's Castle, which starred Nathan Fillion as bestselling author Richard Castle who joined forces with detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) when a serial killer started recreating the murders from his novels.
It's not, though. It's actually the logline for CBS' new procedural Instinct, starring Alan Cumming as that ex-CIA operative-turned-author and university lecturer Dylan Reinhart. Dylan is lured back into working with the law by NYPD's Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic) who needs his help to catch her killer. Once the two are able to stop one killer, they find they work well together and a procedural series is born.
If this were business as usual, we could predict that Dylan and Lizzie would start off borderline resenting each other because Dylan needs his room to work his "process" and Lizzie loves playing by the rules because she's a Very Good Cop. The resentment would be a thin cover for flirting though, which would inevitably result in a badly timed kiss somewhere in mid-Season 2 that wouldn't be hashed out into a full romance until Season 3.
Instinct is not business as usual though because Instinct is breaking the typical TV mold because Reinhart is gay. He's devoutly married to another man by the time he teams up with Lizzie, thus removing the clichéd romantic tension that has plagued male-female crime fighting partners since the dawn of the procedural.
"This pairing is really different than anything you've seen before. So as far as a cop show, there isn't a pairing of an eccentric, behavioral specialist such as Dylan Reinhart, played by Alan, working with a cop. That is in no cop show on TV," Novakovic explained to TV Guide during the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January. She's mostly right, because Castle was canceled two seasons ago, but then she really hits the nail on the head.
"The other huge difference with a male and female lead is that with this one is that there's never going to be...sexual tension. There's no will they, won't they? Their chemistry is intellectual. Their chemistry is emotional. Their chemistry is about their friendship," she said.
Dylan Reinhart's sexuality isn't just a big deal because he's the first gay character to lead a broadcast drama. Removing that frustrating romantic tension between male and female characters actually allows Lizzie to explore new dimensions of an archetype that we've seen dozens of times. That's really exciting. The closest thing a broadcast procedural has gotten to this is Olivia Benson (Marsika Hargitay) on Law & Order: SVU, but you can't say there was absolutely no tension between Olivia and her former partner Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni).
Removing that factor from the show means Lizzie gets to stay focused on her job and bringing in criminals. It's a lot easier to maintain that Dylan and Lizzie are equals when one isn't pursuing the other in hopes of a relationship. Instead, we can figure out how do these two different people function as a team, as best friends? What does it look like when they get drinks together and learn to rely on each other without taking their clothes off? CBS isn't just upping the ante in LGBTQ representation on broadcast, as Instinct could also go a long way in redefining how women are played in cop shows.
Instinct premieres Sunday, March 18 at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS)
Additional reporting by Lindsay MacDonald