Alibi V.16 No.11 • March 15-21, 2007 

Idiot Box

The Case of the Missing Goldblum

“Raines” on NBC

Remember Jeff Goldblum, star of The Big Chill, The Fly and Jurassic Park? Whatever happened to that guy? Well, he became Jeff Goldblum, star of Fay Grim, Mini’s First Time and Spinning Boris. While the ’80s and ’90s were kind to Mr. Goldblum (starring in blockbusters like Independence Day, marrying Geena Davis), the turn of the 21st century seems less so, confining the 6-foot-4 actor to a string of direct-to-video flicks.

But now, Goldblum is making his triumphant return to television. “Raines” is his first regular TV series since 1980’s “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe.” (I think he was Brown Shoe.) “Raines” comes with a solid pedigree, having been written and produced by Graham Yost (writer of Speed and producer of the intriguing 2002 series “Boomtown”).

Goldblum plays the titular LAPD detective. The series opens with Raines back on the job after a shooting incident sidelined him and left his former partner (Malik Yoba) with a career-ending limp. No one’s quite sure Raines is ready to get back in the saddle, least of all Raines himself. This sense of self-doubt is only compounded when, on his first case back, Raines finds himself talking to the ghost of a murdered college student.

What gives “Raines” its unique gimmick and separates it from such potentially similar shows as “The Ghost Whisperer” and “Medium” is that Raines isn’t actually capable of talking to the dead. He just sympathizes so much with victims that he hallucinates them following him around. Since these are only figments of Raines’ imagination, they aren’t actually able to tell him such salient information as who killed them. Raines even manages to get certain details wrong--such as assigning them incorrect accents. But by more or less partnering up with these imaginary ghosts, Raines is able to build a portrait of the victims and stumble his way toward a solution to their death.

Brilliant but slightly crazy, Raines fits nicely alongside other current nutty TV detectives from shows like “Monk,” “Numbers” and “Psych.” The show is never particularly realistic. It’s slick and very attractive-looking, taking better advantage of colorful L.A. locals than most shows on television, but you could never mistake any of it for gritty. “The Shield” this ain’t. Instead, the show feels like a pre-“Hill Street Blues” throwback, hewing closely to the “lone detective” style of benchmark gumshoe shows like “Columbo.” Each week, Raines wanders around town, interviews assorted colorful suspects, runs into a couple red herrings, uncovers a handful of clues that may as well be marked with flashing red lights and eventually exposes the killer in a far-fetched (to be kind) leap of logic.

Despite its overly familiar story structure, there’s something reassuring about “Raines.” Goldblum is as charismatic as ever, the show is pleasing to the eye and the mysteries are just mysterious enough to keep you guessing. At the end of the day, it’s good old-fashioned “whodunit” television, just like mama (and Stephen J. Cannell) used to make.

“Raines” premieres Thursday, March 15, on KOB-4.