The Listener: “A Voice in the Dark”

I Can Hear You

The Listener

“A Voice in the Dark”

Thursdays, NBC, 10 PM

Written by Michael Amo

Directed by Clement Virgo

Someone get Toby a copy of “She’s Just Not Into You”. His attempts every week to shine on his (ex?) girlfriend Olivia are getting very old. If you have to coax your ex to just have coffee with you, the relationship is ashes. Move on. But then, pacing is a problem for this show anyway. After four weeks, it is only now getting around to a crucial moment–letting someone in on Toby’s secret. Other than his mentor Ray Mercer (Colm Feore,Chronicles of Riddick), up to now no one else has figured out that Toby can hear other people’s thoughts. This has put him in some really sticky situations, trying to explain how he knows things that he knows. So who is the logical candidate for this revelation–perhaps the homicide detective who can help Toby solve cases he picks up clues to? No, of course the least effective confidant ever learns Toby’s secret–his EMS partner, Oz.

Once again we start an episode with Oz and Toby, out of uniform, rescuing someone. It’s like these two guys are stealth paramedics, the way they walk around the city stumbling across injured people on their day off. In the opening encounter, Toby connects with a homeless man whose brain carries images of a pleading girl. When he identifies her as a missing teenager, he goes looking for the homeless man, hoping to rescue her. At no point does Toby do the smart thing and enlist help. It’s easy to see why, though. When he comes across an actual clue and dutifully takes it to Lt. Charlie Marks (Lisa Marcos, Flashpoint), she dismisses him. Which arguably makes her the dumbest rock in the box; to date, we’ve seen Toby’s “intuitions” help her solve three separate cases. Yet she acts as if he’s never brought her anything but moonshine, rather than the valuable asset to her investigation he’s been every time in the past. The only reason for a trained investigator to act this dumb is because the writers are too lazy to give her a real reason not to take over the case from Toby.

Toby could use the help, too. For all his quiet savvy and his determination, sometimes he’s a bit dumb himself. For example, in tonight’s episode he uses reverse psychology to get a lock combination out of the bad guy’s head (“Don’t even think about that lock combination!”). Smart move. But then when he unlocks the door leading to the dungeon/basement, heleaves the lock behind. Dude, what would have prevented Bad Guy from doubling back to lock both of you down there, far from help? And then leaving the two of you to starve in the dark? Dumb, dumb, dumb. And yet ten minutes later, Toby is very clever indeed. He tells Oz his secret, and when Oz can’t believe it, Toby quotes Oz’s thoughts, word for word, right out of his head, irrefutable proof. It’s a brilliant touch, which makes me wonder all the more at Toby’s otherwise baffling inability to connect with people (his girlfriend) or think situations through (the lock). I hate heroes who are smart and stupid by turns, as the plot requires.

Then there’s the lame attempts at humor. Oz believes something is wrong with Toby and tries to tell his superior (Arnold Pinnock, Life with Derek). Boss believes Oz is loony and calls in a shrink. There’s some cute byplay in which it turns out the egotistical boss thinks Toby is intimidated by his greatness, but frankly it wasn’t all that funny or surprising. The best moments with Toby were the ones where he is calm and collected, and I must give credit to Craig Olejnik for again underplaying Toby. Toby could be too savvy, too passionate, forever frustrated and angry. Thankfully, Olejnik plays him as slightly sardonic, humble, low-key. Underplaying this part works better than the kind of over-the-top scenery chewing we get all too often on Heroes or Lost.

As before, I found the show watchable but not memorable. And as before, I probably would not have watched at all if there had been anything on TV other than “reality” shows and reruns. NBC may not like the (abysmal) ratings, but is likely to keep the show just for the fact that there’s no better replacement, and because it’s cheap. The show is over a year old, made in Canada, and all NBC is paying for is broadcast rights. If this business model works, expect to see more overseas, low-budget productions making the jump to American prime time, at least in the summer. Frankly, if it means less of the lame game shows, I’m all for it. I wish The Listener well.