The title of “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector” isn’t the only thing that’s a bit unwieldy and overdone about the new NBC crime show based on the book by Jeffrey Deaver. When Deaver’s novel was adapted into a Denzel Washington vehicle simply called “The Bone Collector” in 1999, Roger Ebert said it was “assembled from off-the-shelf thriller contrivances, likable characters and utter absurdity.” He could have been talking about the TV show too.
Played by the great Russell Hornsby (“The Hate U Give”), Lincoln Rhyme is introduced with his weapon out in a foggy room hunting his nemesis. I said last week that FOX’s “Deputy” leaned into its clichés. “Lincoln Rhyme” pushes so hard into its clichés that everything else falls apart. It’s the kind of thing that you’d see play in a parody of cop shows with dialogue that sounds written by an A.I. system that has been fed decades of network mystery shows about men and women in blue. (Dialogue examples include “Whoever did this is playing a game and they wanted me to have all of the pieces” and “Evidence illuminates and aligns all things.”) While embracing a cliché can make for fun escapist TV, the problems come when a show like this takes itself too seriously, thinking it’s making great cuisine from Spam. Everything about “Lincoln Rhyme” is so self-serious that it drains the B-movie approach that is the only way this show could have worked.
Back to that opening scene. After believing he has saved the latest victim of a serial killer known as The Bone Collector, Lincoln realizes too late that he’s been drawn into a trap, and he takes a huge fall, paralyzing the best detective in New York City. Three years later, Rhyme is retired and alone, confined to a bed and spending his days playing video games instead of solving crimes. Of course, this is right when a young MTA officer named Emelia Sachs (Arielle Kebbell) stumbles onto a crime scene in the tunnels that bears the fingerprints of The Bone Collector. Before you know it, the new officer has become more than normal partners with Rhyme, wearing a camera as she goes into the field and Lincoln gives her instructions and sees what she sees. Of course, Sachs has her own trauma in her background, as well as a desire to be a great FBI agent someday. Will her partnership with Rhyme finally catch a master serial killer?
If you’re wondering how this concept works week to week, I can’t really answer that question as NBC only previewed one episode, and it’s naturally heavy on introductions to the key players in Emelia, Lincoln, and even the villain himself, played by the excellent Brian F. O’Byrne. Will every episode feature another hunt for The Bone Collector, who likes to leave clues at one crime scene about how to find the next victim? Probably not. One would assume there will be other cases to fill out a season and the title character will be like Moriarty in the background, returning during Sweeps periods, of course. Although maybe every episode will bring Rhyme and Sachs closer to the Bone Collector. One wonders if they’ll have to change the title if they catch him.
While way too much of “Lincoln Rhyme” is leaden and flat, there’s still something there in Hornsby’s performance that reminds you how good he can be with the right material. I’m always happy when an underrated actor gets a steady paycheck, but I’m hopeful this one doesn’t last long enough to keep him from material more worthy of his talents.
One episode screened for review.