"Bellevue," which begins its single-season run Tuesday on WGN America, is a Canadian-made, small-town mystery set against looming mountains and lowering skies. It has some things to recommend it — star Anna Paquin above all, and its frosty setting — and like most any mystery, it may keep you watching to the end just by virtue of holding back the solution. But it is also full of nonsense.
Paquin plays Annie Ryder, a police detective in the far-north community of Bellevue. (Some wag has altered the name on the "now entering" sign to Hellvue.) We meet her implausibly undercover – implausibly given that this is a place where everyone seems at least vaguely familiar with everyone else – among drug-dealing lowlifes in a sequence that is mostly meant to demonstrate just how far out on a limb she is willing to go to get what she's after. (It also establishes that Bellevue has a drug trade, which will later support a subplot.)
Soon enough, Annie is looking for a missing teenager, Jesse Sweetland. The high school hockey star has, in the words of police chief Peter Welland (Shawn Doyle), been "contemplating his gender identity" – a fact that does not sit well with his high-strung coach (Vincent Leclerc), universally churchgoing teammates or less enlightened classmates. (This is a one-church town; there is an "old church," an abandoned building good for staging bizarre clues.) Details of the new case will bring up memories of an old one: the murder of a local girl that seemingly led to the suicide of Annie's father, a former police chief, who was not able to close the case.
Created by Jane Maggs and Adrienne Mitchell ("Bomb Girls"), the series at first seems to want to highlight female relationships: The mayor (Janine Theriault) is a woman, nicknamed "Mother," and Annie has a new female partner, Virginia (the underused Sharon Taylor), at work, occasioning the usual "new partner" temperamental difficulties, and a smart, sassy 12-year-old daughter, Daisy (Madison Ferguson).
But the series is built instead around her relationships with difficult men: her boss, the police chief; Daisy's father and Anna's sometime boyfriend, Eddie Rowe (Allen Leech, who was Tom on "Downton Abbey"), who is out of work and on pills for "his back"; and the anonymous stranger who leaves riddles for her – an eerie echo of riddles that appeared after the death of her father.
Much of the plot relies on Annie conveniently stumbling upon these imaginatively, sometimes elaborately, presented brain teasers, solving them and then understanding the double meaning of the solution. At times, this recalls nothing so much as the old "Batman" series, where the one about the boy throwing the clock out the window to see time fly points to the fact that some priceless jeweled clock will be on display at the Gotham City airport. Indeed, the riddler is eventually referred to as the Riddler, with no apparent irony or pop-cultural enthusiasm.
"I dropped the stone but you're not seeing the ripples," the Riddler tells Annie, with whom he has established a sort of remote bond.
Eight hours is more time than the story needs – there are enough red herrings to stock a fish market – and you may find yourself waiting impatiently for what you have already guessed will happen to happen. By the time the mystery begins to reveal itself and wind down absurdly toward its Peyton Place revelations and left-field conclusions, you may have long since stopped caring or even wondering who killed whom, or how one little town can harbor so many major-league creeps and nutballs.
It's a town that almost everybody here is from and which no one ever seems to leave, a town so small that a sentence can begin "the mayor, the priest and the hockey coach" and not conclude with a "walk into a bar" joke. (There is a bar, where local lowlife hangs out; it is called, with little imagination, the Rattlesnake.) Some civic sociology is advanced – Bellevue is depressed, a brewery offers a chance of recovery – but never really developed.
There are things that please, most of which have to do with Paquin, who, as she was on "True Blood," has the air of being slightly disconnected and too sensitive at once, her strong-featured face a canvas for the complicated feelings that war behind it. Especially satisfying are her scenes with Leech's Eddie, with whom she has an affectionate, argumentative, co-dependent relationship that feels authentically intimate, and with Ferguson's spunky Daisy. At these moments, "Bellevue" comes in from the cold and spreads a little real warmth around.
Where: WGN America
When: 7, 9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday
Rated: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd