‘Eyewitness’: A Moody Murder Mystery

Ken Tucker
Photo: USA Network

A combination murder mystery and soap opera, Eyewitness features Julianne Nicholson in an excellent performance as a small-town cop investigating a triple murder. The series, based on a Norwegian TV series and set in upstate New York, is a gray-hued film noir (a film gris?) that is intriguing in its opening hours.

The multiple homicide occurs in a cabin within the jurisdiction of Nicholson’s Sheriff Helen Torrance. We learn quickly that she used to work in a bigger city and that her new job had been boring her stiff. This grim crime puts a spring in her boots; the script didn’t need to tell us, because we can see it in her eyes, but nevertheless, she says solving this case gives her new life “meaning and purpose.”

Related: Watch the First 12 Minutes of USA Network’s New Thriller ‘Eyewitness’

It also complicates her personal life considerably, although she has no idea of this initially. One of the witnesses to the crime is her foster child, a high school boy named Philip, played by Tyler Young, who’d been using the cabin as a place to explore his new crush on a fellow student, Lucas (James Paxton). (One of the most interesting things about Eyewitness is its clear-eyed portrayal of a young gay couple without undue melodrama.)

Pretty soon, the FBI horns in on the murder case because one of the dead guys was working undercover for law enforcement. Helen butts heads with FBI agent Kamilah Davis (Tattiawna Jones) over territorial rights to the case — it’s interesting to see two women go at this kind of tough posturing, a situation TV and movies usually reserve for men.

The first two episodes are directed by Catherine Hardwicke, best known for directing Twilight, and she sets the tone for this series: beautifully languid tracking shots of forests and streams, a landscape in which a little gas station, a motorcycle, or a human disturbs the rural calm.

As Eyewitness proceeds, there are some credibility-stretching coincidences and relationships that are revealed that you might find difficult to accept without rolling your eyes — some of the plot strands tie together rather too neatly. But Nicholson is terrific, and if you’re in the mood for a bleak mystery in the same general area of The Killing or Top of the Lake, Eyewitness is worth a look.

Eyewitness airs Sunday night at 10 p.m. on USA.