I’ve never liked Jeff Goldblum. He always struck me as self-enamored. But this is a new Goldblum. Somehow the guy got gravitas. And this changes everything. With a new seriousness and depth of feeling, all that preciousness and posing transforms itself, hey presto, into great acting. That virtuous control of face, body and especially voice, now that they are no longer servants of his vanity, give Goldblum extraordinary depths and control as an actor. It’s really an amazing transformation…as if Olivier has spent the opening years as a talk show host. A star is born.
Did we need a new detective show? Certainly not. But somehow had the very good idea of giving this show roots in the Noir tradition. At a stroke, this gives Goldblum’s character that air of a tarnished knight and Goldblum works moral weariness and self-doubt to perfection. Hollywood shamelessly ransacks Noir structure and vocabulary, always taking, never giving. It borrows, in the famous phrase by x because it cannot steal. Raines steals. This is Noir actually lives and breathes. This is Noir getting better.
Listen especially for the voice-over dialog that Goldblum offers at the beginning of each show. This is a Noir staple, the voice of bad tempered authenticity. The Noir novelists (Chandler, Hammett) always made this voice a little too tough-guy for my tastes, as if getting this close to literary obliged them to hype the speaker’s gender credentials. In a more secure time, Goldblum can work this territory with nuance, and I think it’s fair to say that these opening orations may be the best voice-over work ever.
The show turns on a stunt. Goldblum’s character can see dead people. Yawn. This is a device that is precious close to jumping the shark, if it didn’t do some years ago. (Consider Sixth Sense, Ghost Whisper, etc.). But even here the show draws up to the brink of cliche and then finds a way to make it work. In this case, Goldblum is not so much seeing dead people, as inventing them. They are figments of his imagination. They know it. He knows it. Your scalp will not tingle. Your spine will not shiver. Nothing supernatural is revealed. This turns out to be a lovely device for listening to a thinking, feeling man thinking and feeling. An interior dialog made outward for our delectation.
The casting choices are stunningly good. Hats off to Meg Liberman and Irene Cagen. Everyone in the station house is good. Dov Davidoff is flat out brilliant. Madeleine Stow as the psychiatrist is not so good. It’s as if she is trying to put too many funny, gracious roles behind her, and prove that she is an actress with chops playing a professional woman with substance. It’s a one note performance from a cast that is very good at working the scale. One of my favorite things is that this ensemble never has those terrible moments that beset the cast of CSI: New York where everyone keeps repeating "vic" over and over like a support group for people with David Mamet disorder. (We get it! We get it! You are street toughed officers of the law!)
Some of the credit for this show must go to the executive producer, Graham Yost. Graham’s Dad was Elwy Yost, a famous Canadian film buff who once sent Graham to school with a note that read: "I am sorry that Graham is late for school today. We were watching Citizen Kane till very late last night." What Graham draws Elwy. Raines draws from popular culture. Some TV is getting better because we have taking it seriously, and doing it better, for several generations now.
I think one way to see the significance of Raines is to compare it to 24. 24 has become a drama machine. There is no surprise left. Only tension. Jack Bauer (Keiffer Sutherland’s character) has become an action figure, running, jumping, hitting, shooting, and only very rarely actually acting. Raines is Shakespearean by comparison. Raines may well owe its existence to The Closer, but I think it is much better. In fact, it’s not clear to me that there are few things on TV better than Raines. (Though I have to agree with Peter and Joshua that nothing is better than The Wire.) That there is talk of cancellation is pure madness. I don’t doubt that there was an editor and a publishing house that refused the early work of Chandler and Hammett. I mean, come on, take a risk. History may be watching.
Raines runs on NBC, Friday, 9/8c
There are 5 episodes on the NBC website here.
McCracken, Grant 2004. Complexity on TV. This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics. September 15, 2004. here. [in praise of the Wire]
Premiere date: March 15, 2007
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Matt Craven, Dov Davidoff, Linda Park, Madeleine Stowe, Nicole Sullivan, Malik Yoba
Executive producer: Graham Yost
Creator: Graham Yost
Co-executive producers: Felix Alcala and Fred Golan
Producer: Preston Fischer
Consulting producers: Bruce Rasmussen and Jennifer Cecil
Co-producer: Josh Singer
Story editor: Taylor Elmore
Staff writer: David Andron, Moira Walley-Beckett and Wendy Calhoun
Director: Frank Darabont (pilot)
Casting directors: Meg Liberman and Irene Cagen
Production designer: Greg Melton
Art director: Anthony D. Parrillo
Director of photography: Lex du Pont
Costume designer: Giovanna Melton
Editors: Ron Rosen, Derek Berlatsky and Peter Frank
Music supervisor: Gregory Sill
Sound mixer: Tim Cooney
Origination: Hollywood, California
Produced by: NBC Universal Television Studio