The CW’s Wild Cards Is a Breezy and Fun Consultant Procedural
The consultant procedural is a subgenre of which we have been desperately lacking within the TV sphere. From Richard Castle to Lucifer Morningstar, the most fun TV detectives haven’t truly been detectives at all, but rather those special outsiders assigned as parters to by-the-books cops to help solve cases in unconventional ways. But fans of that nearly extinct genre are in luck, as The CW’s newest series Wild Cards familiarly brings breezy crime drama to our screens once again.
Starring Riverdale’s Vanessa Morgan and Grey’s Anatomy’s Giacomo Gianniotti, Wild Cards follows thief Max (Morgan) and demoted detective Ellis (Gianniotti) as they attempt to work together to solve crimes through the combined understanding of their vastly different worlds. While Ellis is a staunch rule follower longing for nothing more than reinstatement after being demoted from detective to water-cop, Max wants nothing more than to use her skills to help solve crimes—as long as it means she gets to stay out of jail. Buoyed by a palpable adoration for this specific subgenre married with a crackling chemistry between the series’ adorably charismatic leads, Wild Cards has yet to quite reach the heights of its predecessors, but it’s a damn good time anyway.
Wild Cards borrows the sincerity and goofiness from Psych’s Shawn Spencer and the suave criminality of White Collar’s Neal Caffrey to create Max, an outgoing and cheeky thief who has no qualms about putting on a show to con her way into places she shouldn’t be—all while harboring an outsized amount of empathy for every side character she comes across. There’s a refreshing element to the woman of this duo being allowed the role of unconventional outsider. In its genre peers, the uptight, eye-rolling role is usually reserved for the strict female officer (think Juliet O’Hara, Kate Beckett, and Chloe Decker), but Max’s status as the button-pushing, outgoing, and bold rule-breaker allows for a joyfulness to be brought to the central female character of this series, forcing her strict male partner to loosen up along the way.
After watching Vanessa Morgan be so understated and too often relegated to the background on Riverdale, it’s a genuine delight to watch her let loose and truly shine as the undeniable star of this series. There’s a fearlessness in her performance as she puts on numerous (oftentimes questionable) accents, quips out pop-culture one-liners, and practically skips across the screen. She is laugh-out-loud funny and monumentally charming—even the series’ clunkiest dialogue doesn’t dampen her shine. Her performance rings similar to her work on My Babysitter’s a Vampire, a series brimming with camp hilarity and bursting with heart, and that same tongue-in-cheek self-awareness matched with an earnest joy can be found here as well. And even though Morgan is the clear standout, Gianniotti holds his own as her serious and grounded counterpart, and the chemistry already present between them is enough to fill in the blanks of the flimsy world and cliched characters surrounding them.
While Wild Cards isn’t quite as smart and smooth as its clear inspirations in Psych, White Collar, Castle, and the like (Max even calls out Castle by name when she’s paired with Ellis, alongside “Bones and that dude from Buffy”), it’s clear that the series is still trying to find its footing in the first two episodes screened for critics, but has so much potential when everything clicks into place. By knowing the roots of this subgenre, Wild Cards leans into the more predictable beats, affectionately treading similar ground as the great shows that came before with a clear self-awareness but also an unabashed admiration for the very function of these kinds of procedurals. Rather than showcase serious investigations and grisly murders, Wild Cards embraces watchability and easy viewing experience over any kind of sound police work.
But while this series is fun and weightless, Wild Cards’ biggest weakness is the clunky dialogue that plagues these first two episodes. At times, Max will quip out a line clearly meant to appeal to The Youths™, but they go over about as well as you would expect considering TV and film’s penchant for butchering Gen Z culture. And when your show is clearly riffing on character-writing triumphs like Psych and Castle, corny dialogue is a let down when compared to the whip-smart musings of Shawn and Castle. And even removed from comparisons to its genre peers, hearing any character say “amazeballs” in 2024 is just plain disheartening.
However, even with its corny dialogue and predictable beats, Wild Cards is still an extremely enjoyable time, especially if you have been missing the kind of breezy, easy-viewing shows networks like USA and The CW of olde once provided. This series is perfect for fans of Psych and White Collar, or for anyone looking to watch Vanessa Morgan have such a good time on screen that it’s actually contagious. Wild Cards is not groundbreaking by any means; it’s not going to win anybody any Emmys or be universally lauded for its camera work or any kind of devastating storytelling, but it doesn’t have to be. More than anything, it is the kind of series that I can picture running for years to come; a procedural that has the kind of potential to build upon itself for seasons upon seasons and just get better with age—and I sincerely hope it gets the chance to do so.