The advertised appeal of ABC’s Canadian import Motive is that it’s a “whydunnit?” rather than a “whodunnit?,” giving its audience a glimpse at the identities of both the victim and the killer before any of the story’s detective work begins and having the reason for the crime be the focus of its mysteries. Unfortunately, this gimmicky premise quickly renders the show a “whocares?,” as the main attraction of so many other homicide procedurals is their ability to lure viewers in with a combination of snappy dialogue, sleazy music cues, and outrageous plot twists, ultimately allowing them to find shreds of satisfaction in learning if their inklings about who the perpetrator is are correct, and Motive thinks itself too important for all that. Because its backward approach is a gaudy attempt to trumpet its writers’ supposed cleverness, dishing out information to the plot’s investigators and the audience at varying intervals, both are eventually left emotionally empty-handed and unfulfilled.
While Motive’s central gumshoes, gutsy single mother Angie Flynn (The Killing’s Kristin Lehman) and her trusted partner, Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira), comb through numerous false leads, viewers are multiple steps ahead of them, identifying every misleading clue as soon as it surfaces because the criminal has already been determined. The pilot, “Creeping Tom,” is needlessly visually busy, flashing “THE KILLER” and “THE VICTIM” across the screen next to the faces of a bullied student and a popular teacher (New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre), who, ironically, is seen belting out Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” at a karaoke bar. When Flynn later arrives at the crime scene, the angle of the shot drops low and swoops around as she exits her 1984 Oldsmobile Hurst, flashes from photographers’ cameras illuminating her frame. It’s shameless glorification that serves no purpose other than to announce that she’s the protagonist and that we should care about her. Flynn’s scenes with her son, Manny (Cameron Bright), attempt to humanize her, offering a pleasant enough respite from the laborious crime-solving grind, but their relationship fails to provide much meaningful insight into her personal motivation in regard to how she goes about dealing with each case.
In a setup reminiscent of (perhaps coincidentally) The Killing, Motive’s second episode, “Crimes of Passion,” finds a mayoral candidate killing a teenage girl in a hit and run. Again, Flynn and Vega must play catch-up with the erratic script, which unwisely throws away the possibility of a big reveal in its first act. Throughout further installments, like “Against All Odds,” where a lawyer with a large life-insurance policy meets his untimely end, and “Detour,” featuring the death of a prominent mortgage broker, the series continues to parade its unconventional narrative methods instead of building a believable background story for its victims or taking the time to develop its supporting cast past an assortment of CSI-style stereotypes. Motive flounders chiefly, however, because it expends lasting suspense by providing the audience with all the hard facts they need up front, subsequently granting them an invitation to leave the party early.