Raines is a new show on NBC. Chatter on line suggests that it has not taken off like a rocket. This is a pity, because it is, I think, the best thing to come to television in a long time.
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
Another great show is The Wire, on HBO. While I can’t write the nice level of detail you wrote about Raines, I have to say that its the best written (and casted) show I’ve seen in years. It’s a cop drama, but spends as much time making viewers empathic toward the lives of the people who come into contact with the cops (both good and bad) that it really stands apart from shows like Law and Order, etc.
Speaking of noir, Grant, have you seen the movie “Brick” ? Think film noir meets “Pretty in Pink”. Superb.
I also have to violently agree with Joshua on “The Wire” — the best-written, best-acted, best-filmed, most vivid, TV show the USA has ever produced. It’s not just a cop show — it’s about all of life itself in contemporary urban America — a vision of human life as it is really lived which is as rich as Dickens.
“Raines” is, indeed, a worthy new addition to television viewing; therefore, in the same way that “Twin Peaks” and “Big Love” came and went in a flash (As the developers of “Twin Peaks” said in a recent interview, “We lived fast, died young, and left a good-looking corpse…just like Laura Palmer”) , I fear the worst for Jeff Goldblum’s fine turn as the detective who can “see” dead people. Giving Raines the flaw of mental problems (that seem to be getting worse) is a master stroke along the lines of Jonathan Lethem’s giving his inept detective character Lionel (“Motherless Brooklyn”, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction) Tourette’s Syndrome. The main character, whether film or book, must have an Achilles heel, a fatal flaw (think CSI’s William Pederson’s developing deafness) to succeed in today’s movies or books, and Raines has it, in spades.
Long may “Raines” reign.
to the NBC big wigs….. come on now. you pulled Studio 60– we love Matthew Perry.
Jeff Golblum is an eccentric character with a very dry sense of humor but this show is fun & refreshing. We do love CSI, C.I, Law & Orders The Shield, etc- this is one that has made it to our Ti-Vo. Dont pull another show from your line up- not this one. have a heart.
I agree with everything you have said although, I do not have your ability with words. I am very angry that NBC has decided to cancel Raine’s an instead continue on the downward spiral that has so far landed them in the bottom of the rating heap. I must say I am! a Jeff Goldblum fan but I do agree that too often, he comes over as self important(as if he knows something we don’t) but in Raine’s he has shown more depth an now was in a showcase that would have worked with his more mature style. I am a member of the NBC Raine’s boards an we are working to have the program picked up by a network such as USA where it can truly shine. If anyone can or will help, it would be greatly appreciated. I do not enjoy the mindless reality programs, which cater to the lowest element of society and I will be very happy when the dumbing down is over.
Hi an TY for your reply to my comments. I greatly appreciate your offer to help. A administrator of the Raine’s board recently posted that our best chance would be to have the show picked up by USA,TBS,or TNT. We would prefer USA as their past history is of giving unique programs the chance an time needed. If you or anyone has a contact at one of those stations,a good word to those in charge would be a great help. We are trying to impress upon them the wisdom of giving a show such as this a chance to find it’s audience, as there is a place for a program, which shows police as caring human beings, who are affected by the carnage they see daily, and still find the humor in the worst of it. I also believe the recent decision to only order 7 episodes of a new program, would have surely doomed many if not most, of the past programs we now consider “classics” to a distant memory. We are also trying to find a way to enlist Graham Yost to help save his baby. Please, anyone who can help I would love to hear from you. Ideas are welcome.
Raine’s is by far one of the best shows in a long time to come aboard the NBC lineup. His acting is superb. Get rid of the reality shows, we watch TV to escape the reality of the day and be entertained. Bring back Raines. The writers hit on something good here, don’t blow it.