A crime procedural tweaked with the slimmest of gimmicks, “Raines” largely boils down to one’s appreciation of star Jeff Goldblum, who occupies center stage in practically every scene. A cop who works his way through crimes by talking to (or more generously, channeling) the victims, he’s a troubled soul, but otherwise this is a throwback to the 1970s — a single-lead detective show that neatly wraps up whodunit each hour. Relative to riskier dramas, it seems a reasonably safe bet, though it’s hardly the sort of series people will rush home to see.
Then again, situating the right actor against a conventional backdrop has exhibited signs of life lately, from Hugh Laurie powering his way through “House” to Tony Shalhoub’s defective detective “Monk” to James Woods knifing through the scenery in “Shark.” (NBC is cleverly giving “Raines” a two-week preview on Thursday — when “Shark” will be sidelined by CBS’ male-skewing coverage of NCAA basketball — before the series lands Fridays adjacent to “Law & Order.”)
Somewhat refreshingly, the premise, which features a tormented, savvy investigator who works through cases by talking to the dead, doesn’t really focus on mysticism. Although the deceased speak back, they don’t divulge any secrets, serving more as a sounding board for Raines (Goldblum) as he sifts through the clues.
Indeed, Raines is generally annoyed the young woman in the premiere won’t help him, though on the plus side, she does provide someone to talk to beyond his former partner (Malik Yoba). No one else in his circle pops out initially, with Matt Craven as his caring boss and Nicole Sullivan as a co-worker.
Raines does get sent to a live therapist, played by Madeleine Stowe, in the second hour, during which he concedes the people he’s talking to are “not ghosts, just figments of my imagination.”
Another amusing twist is that as Raines learns about the ghosts, their appearance and demeanor keep changing, reflecting his prejudices and assumptions. So when the cheerleader outfit in the closet turns out to mean the chatty corpse was a prostitute, the girl-next-door look disappears, traded in for garish makeup and, at one point, the score from “Body Heat.”
Written by Graham Yost, this is a series for people with a reasonably high TV IQ, but not a particularly challenging formula. The main allure is seeing Goldblum in action, his eyes darting hither and yon — having graduated from the early ABC show “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe” through features to this, which is more like “Offspeed and the Spirit.” (As with Yost’s last NBC crime drama — the late, lamented “Boomtown” — “Raines” also boasts a knockout, way-cool opening-credit sequence.)
“What if this happens with every case I get?” Raines mumbles near the end, once he’s solved the case and the girl disappears.
Actually, given how conventional the show is otherwise, the bigger concern should be “What if it doesn’t?”