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'Motive' review: 'Overboard' a tale of stolen identities and secret romances

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Motive has gotten even better in its second season. The show's "whydunit" instead of "whodunit" aspect was a nice concept, but ideas only take a series so far. What made the program stick was that it nailed the fundamental of all good entertainment: it created characters that we cared about. In season two, we're continuing to learn more about these folks we enjoy spending time with, and for once the new guy is actually a valuable addition to the team.

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If the title didn't clue you in, this week's murder involves a yacht. It's the worst evening on a boat since Speed 2: Cruise Control. When the team finds socialite Alicia Barclay washed up on the beach, Angie's pissed off that Cross has decided to show up at the crime scene, but really, is there anything Cross can do that won't piss Angie off? Even his walking by her in the coroner's office irritates her. We love you, Angie, and we know he hurt you, but a decade is a long time to hold a grudge.

Yet that aside, the subplot is one of the strengths in Motive's sophomore cycle. Havng an ex-lover return is one of the oldest and most overdone B-stories in the book, but here it not only fits, it contributes to the universe. The show has so far resisted the cliches of having Cross be a one-dimensional ladies' man, or having him and Angie rekindle their affair. Instead, the writers are using the plot point to give us more insight into our heroine's past; it also makes the show slightly more cohesive, because now her personal life has a way to be incorporated into the professional part of the program, instead of them being generally separate as they were in season one.

All of that is great in theory but it means nothing if it can't be brought to life. For that, we have to give kudos to the casting directors for bringing onboard Warren Christie (remember Alphas? October Road? You should), another one of those actors who's very talented but not that recognized. Watching him work, it's clear why Cross was made a regular character and not just brought on for a couple of episodes.

He's got the good looks and charm so that we understand what might have attracted Angie to this guy ten years earlier - but more importantly, he and the writers are building Cross as a full individual. He's not just Angie's ex or Angie's boss, he's Mark Cross, and he's obviously good at his job, a little bit cocky, a little bit of a control freak (despite what he said when he was introduced), and we want to know more about him.

The interplay between Warren and Kristin Lehman builds the requisite tension, but it's never forced. Plus, it adds more wit to a show that is occasionally pretty damn funny. Sometimes, we get lines like this:

Angie (to Oscar): See, you act like a normal person, but you're not. I want you to know that I'm on to you, okay?

(You also have to love Louis Ferreira's Oscar Vega, who always has that attitude like he's unimpressed with everything. He's the rock of this show while everyone else tries to get themselves together.)

The best part of the case is that we get to enjoy Carlos Bernard (best known as 24's Tony Almeida) playing Kurt Taylor, the business partner of the dead woman's husband - and the person that she was sleeping with. He's an actor who really should be on television more often, and we're counting his recurring role on Dallas when we say that. He can play a character who isn't an upstanding citizen, but yet keep him likeable enough that we're interested in what happens to him.

It turns out that Kurt was framed by his former brother-in-law Damian Cutter, played by Eureka's Niall Matter, who brings a ton of nervous energy - exactly what you'd expect for somebody who's trying to cover up a revenge murder and subsequent frame job. Motive has had a knack for bringing in interesting guest stars, and season two is continuing that trend. The actual unfolding of the plot almost takes a back seat to just watching the acting.

In that sense, "Overboard" encapsulates what's made Motive such a great summer show. Technically, it's a police procedural, and those folks who watch it for the crime-solving can count on getting a plot worth their 42 minutes each Wednesday. But this is a cop show like Suits is a lawyer show: not exactly. The job is moreso a setting for a collection of intriguingly written, well-acted characters who play well off each other. We'd still watch this show if Angie Flynn was writing parking tickets, although let's hope she never gets in that much trouble.

Yet unlike Suits, Motive isn't one of those series that's complex. Its plots are generally straightforward, and what you see is pretty much what you get. That's what makes it a perfect summer show - we can kick back, relax, and enjoy spending some time with familiar faces. It's only getting better as it goes along. Thankfully, we're already guaranteed a third season.

Motive continues next Wednesday at 10 PM ET/PT on ABC. For more on the show, check out my cast interviews with Kristin Lehman and Warren Christie.

(c)2014 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

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