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Dolly Lewis as Tess Avery in CTV's Sight Unseen.CW Network

If you want to emerge on top of the slew of TV cop procedurals and franchise heavyweights, you need a unique character or concept that people will want to watch. Think NYPD Blue’s Det. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) and his struggles with alcoholism; Columbo (Peter Falk) and his bumbling misdirection; or the brutally corrupt Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) on The Shield.

However, veer too far into those quirks, and a show is just gimmicky. There’s a reason Cop Rock and its musical stylings only lasted 11 episodes or why NBC’s 1990 experiment Poochinski – in which a detective’s spirit enters the body of a bulldog to solve crimes – never made it past the 21-minute pilot.

Sight Unseen, CTV’s newest take on the genre, understands that distinction despite some stumbles in early episodes. The Canadian production isn’t the first to feature a crime-solving lead with a notable health condition; the 2002, Toronto-shot Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye starred Deanne Bray as a deaf woman working at the FBI. What is remarkable, though, is how authentically Sight Unseen depicts experiences of the visually impaired community – a testament to the research that went into it – all while offering a twist on the traditional crime format. Getting into the series, however, takes a bit of time.

Sight Unseen follows a homicide detective named Tess Avery (newcomer Dolly Lewis) whose faltering sight almost gets her partner, Jake Campbell (Daniel Gillies, The Originals), killed on the job. When she’s later diagnosed as clinically blind, she quits the force but can’t leave a time-sensitive case alone. So, she goes rogue and pretends to see with the help of top tech and a seeing eye-guide, Sunny Patel (Agam Darshi, Sanctuary), an agoraphobic woman who lives 3,000 miles away.

It doesn’t take long for Tess to put herself and others in harm’s way (this is a drama, after all), but for her to get out of that trouble, the show introduces a bit of luck to the story, not to mention a few bumbling baddies with questionable weaponry skills. Watching Tess successfully escape such high-stakes situations requires a suspension of disbelief, at least at first, as she comes to terms with what she is and is no longer capable of.

Meanwhile, Tess keeps her vision loss secret from those who really should know, such as those on the force. It’s a clichéd way to build tension and an implausible long-term feat. Tess is constantly armed with a micro camera, an earpiece, and pulled-back hair to remind audiences it’s there, and she keeps up dual conversations across multiple scenes. Asking viewers to believe that she can pull that off in a police station or while surrounded by detectives is a lot. The writers seem to know that, however, because as the series progresses, so does Tess’s trust level with her former co-workers.

Still, in the first few episodes, those moments can be frustrating, given the show’s potential to shed light on a community that isn’t always represented well or even at all onscreen.

Sight Unseen’s nuanced portrayal of the sight-impaired community results from the real-life experiences it incorporates and prioritizes. The show is inspired by the ongoing sight loss experiences of Karen Troubetzkoy (Killjoys), who co-created the show with her sister Nikolijne Troubetzkoy (Transplant). The creatives also relied on a large team of consultants, including writers, experts, and one real-life undercover detective who continued to work after experiencing sight loss.

Diversity was a priority for onscreen representation as well. Lewis is a sight-divergent lead, and supporting actor Alice Christina-Corrigan, who plays Tess’s adviser, Mia, is visually impaired and neurodiverse. Other than Jason Momoa’s three-season See, with its Apple TV+ budget, it’s hard to think of another series that has dedicated so many resources to getting it right.

For viewers, it’s an immersive and layered experience from the first episode, shot by director and executive producer John Fawcett (Orphan Black). Well-timed lens flares help to heighten the moody scenes and create a sense of Tess’s narrowing world. There are also plenty of locations in the Vancouver-shot series to take in, and the technical feat of bringing Tess and Sunny’s characters together is seamless, despite the actors never being in the same room.

Lewis is also perfectly cast as Tess, balancing the character’s darker moments with lightness despite her traumatic past. Darshi is delightful as Sunny, with her gorgeous apartment, bright fashion, and upbeat attitude. That makes her dark backstory all the more intriguing, and there are just enough reveals in the first couple of episodes to keep viewers hooked.

Together, Tess and Sunny have an easy chemistry, and they put a fresh twist on the cop show trope of forced partnership, when two characters must work together despite their contrasting personalities. In this case, one woman doesn’t have all the required senses for the job, while the other is dealing with heavy trauma and needs to find purpose in her current circumstances. She also happens to push Tess into some dangerous situations along the way.

If you stick with it, it all adds up to a fun and engaging watch. In the end, Sight Unseen offers something new. Yet at its core, it’s just one of those comforting police procedurals that genre-lovers crave at the end of a long day.

Sight Unseen debuted Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CTV. An encore presentation airs in CTV in the show’s regular time slot, Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

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