Last night was the premiere of Instinct on CBS. For the first time ever, CBS has a gay lead character in Dr. Dylan Reinhart portrayed by Alan Cumming. As someone who enjoys procedurals, I instantly liked it. By the end, I loved it! Especially the lighter tone it provides compared to the rest of CBS’ procedural fare. The world is on fire, but it’s clear the writers don’t want to leave the audience feeling terrible.
The TV world has rightfully criticized CBS the past few years for its lack of on-screen diversity and years of straight white male leads. There have been LGBTQ identified actors in cameo roles here and there. There was Root and Shaw on Person of Interest, but this is the first time the number one lead role is a gay character, and portrayed by someone in the community.
Instinct, based off James Patterson’s Murder Games, has Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a gifted author and university professor teaching abnormal behavior as our non-cop of the duo. Except he was former CIA and paramilitary! He uses those skills to help the NYPD and fashionably rides his motorcycle too.
Dylan must work with Detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic) who for years has refused any partner after both a tragic event and her last partner tried to kiss her, ew. (She even knees him when he goes in for another one when we meet him.) There’s also Reinhart’s CIA comrade Julian Cousins (Naveen Andrews). The other regulars are Sharon Leal as Lt. Jasmine Gooden, Whoopi Goldberg as Dylan’s editor, and Daniel Ings as Andy, Dylan’s husband, a lawyer turned bar owner. Recurring is Sarita Choudhury as Mayor Meyers.
Cumming was drawn to the role specifically because Dylan is gay and married, “especially at time in America where gay people are being persecuted and our rights are being removed.”
Instinct and Solving Crime
The actual premise for Dylan’s partnering with Lizzie is that a (serial) killer has left a playing card mentioned in Dylan’s book at the murder scenes. Lizzie interrupts him during class, and while he eats, she explains the dilemma. Cue crime solving and hilarity as Dylan tries to figure out who the killer is under Lt. Gooden’s watchful eye. When that’s not happening, the show sets up Dylan and Andy’s relationship, preview what we can expect between Dylan and Lizzie, and even some Whoopi Goldberg!
Refreshingly, Dylan and Andy have a successful relationship and have been married for almost a year. They’re supportive of each other, though Dylan tapping into his CIA training will pose a problem. Still, there’s an immediate warmth to their interactions and it’s clear that the characters are very much in love. (It reminded me of Elizabeth and Henry McCord on Madam Secretary).
As such, unlike other procedurals with a woman/man, cop/non-cop relationship, there is no waiting for the two to date. Obviously, Dylan will get her to open up again, but as a friend and not as an eventual love interest. It honestly makes the entire pilot even more compelling, because we’re not waiting for an inevitable kiss or drama. Instead, Dylan and Lizzie get to grow as friends.
By the way, Lizzie deducing that Andy doesn’t know yet about Dylan working with her but not that “[he’s] gay” was one of my favorite moments of the entire episode. It’s still so rare for characters to label themselves or be labeled affirmatively! And on the same night another CBS show revealed a bisexual character. I super appreciate the writers for writing that entire scene.
Cumming’s comedic timing made the scene and really the crime solving itself super entertaining. His chemistry with Naveen Andrews adds a layer to their CIA based relationship, and I can’t wait until Lizzie meets Julian.
As the episode proceeds, we learn that Dylan’s memory is phonographic as compared to the usual photographic memory for the smart non-cop member of the duo. He was a musical prodigy as a kid and hears his memories the way we might see our own. It’s a nice twist on the usual trope without making Dylan and his characteristics unbelievable.
Lizzie too, though she’s the “cop with tragic backstory” is complex. Props to the writers for giving us that backstory in the first episode. Her partner and fiance Charlie was killed at work, and the dog they saved has to be put down. Oof.
The case of the week ends after they find and stop the killer before his final murder. We get to see Dylan take him out and save Lizzie’s life! This professor’s training never left him. Then the episode ends with Dylan checking in with Lizzie and the two deciding that he should be her new partner!
Overall, Instinct had one of the better pilots I’ve seen from procedurals in the last few years. Even better, as a mid-season show with thirteen episodes, the writers don’t have much room for filler so every episode should give the audience more to savor. I also really liked that Dylan’s talking down the killer included the line “all of us can behave abnormally.” I’m excited to see where the writers take the stories and characters and to get to know the characters even better!