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‘Instinct’ review: By-the-numbers procedural with appealing leads

Alan Cumming and Bojana Novakovic star in

Alan Cumming and Bojana Novakovic star in "Instinct." Photo Credit: Alan Cumming and Bojana Novakovic star in “Instinct.”

THE SERIES “Instinct”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS/2

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Dr. Dylan Reinhart (Alan Cumming) is a former CIA operative and now distinguished — if somewhat unconventional — New York-based author and university professor whose specialty is psychopaths. That may (or may not) explain the title of his bestseller, “Freaks,” or why some people refer to him as Professor Psychopath. An unusual murder involving a playing card leads NYPD detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic) to him for help. It appears that the murderer has read his book, which is about the symbolism of playing cards, or as he further explains, “it’s not about playing cards, but [about] gambling and the compulsion for risk versus the need for control, which are the two competing impulses that psychopaths share with us all.” In any event, a psychopath is loose in the big city and Lizzie needs his help. Reinhart, meanwhile, has a book agent (Whoopi Goldberg) who wants another book out of him — now.

This series is an adaptation of “Murder Games” by James Patterson and Howard Roughan.

MY SAY “Instinct” is like a thousand shows that have come before and like a thousand that will come after, with but one notable difference. It stars a Tony Award winner, and one of the finest actors of his generation. You know him best as Eli Gold of “The Good Wife.” What is Cumming doing in a show like this? It’s call a “job.” (You’ve heard of that, too.)

Lots of excellent actors from the United Kingdom (Cumming is Scottish) find their way to network procedurals, where a certain latent erudition comes in handy, or at least elevates the enterprise. England’s Jonny Lee Miller, for example, stars in “Elementary,” which will return to CBS in late April. Into the breach steps “Instinct,” which is almost an exact facsimile.

Why do networks, CBS in particular, keep serving this and why do audiences keep coming back for more? Because it’s so easy on the eyes and brain. You settle in, sit back, and know exactly what’s coming over the next hour. CBS long ago mastered the form (and formula), and “Instinct” is a perfectly respectable representative. It was also created by Michael Rauch, who did a good job as “Royal Pains” showrunner over many years. He knows exactly what the audience wants, and “Instinct” isn’t about to disappoint them or certainly surprise them either.

“Instinct” does have a unique twist, or at least unique to a CBS procedural: Reinhart is gay, and married to another man. That would be Andy, played by another British actor, Daniel Ings. (Fans of “The Crown” know Ings well: In the most recent season, he was the philanderer Mike Parker, who brought disgrace upon Prince Philip.)

But in the pilot and later episodes, “Instinct” downplays Reinhart’s sexual orientation so completely as to be almost unnoticeable. As far as the series is concerned, it’s also irrelevant. “Instinct” is really about the chemistry between Reinhart and Needham, which is sort of a good-natured, brother-sister rivalry. (Comparisons to “Castle” are also inevitable, except that “Castle” was hardly the first to crack this particular code either.) He’s the brainy sibling, she’s the impulsive one. They even seem to like each other. You just might, too.

BOTTOM LINE By-the-numbers procedural with a pair of appealing leads. Otherwise, by-the-book bland.

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