Will Trent review – the detective’s punched someone and had sex before the first episode’s finished

Detective shows need to have at least one of two things: clever plots to confound us, or a world we want to live in. If the mystery is a doozy, a personality-free investigator isn’t always a dealbreaker. If you’re enjoying spending time with the sleuths, whodunnit doesn’t necessarily matter. Will Trent, a breezy escape of a cop show, is in the second category.

We’re in Atlanta, Georgia, where sunshine streams dustily through windows, old soul music is always playing somewhere within your earshot and people talk to each other with a terse, fuss-averse wit. While the regular Atlanta police department do their best to solve major crimes, their vibe is constantly ruined by the fancy know-it-alls from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, swanning in to hoover up all the good cases.

One of the GBI’s number, Will Trent (Ramón Rodríguez), enjoys his own level of unpopularity, having recently busted a load of APD officers for corruption – that’s why he has “Rat Snitch Traitor” scrawled in graffiti on the side of his car, Alan Partridge-style. But here he is, walking, almost floating, into the scene of a double homicide. Before the opening credits we saw Abigail (Jennifer Morrison), upset by the realisation that her car-dealer husband Paul (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) had cheated on her, arrive home from a tennis lesson to find a broken window, the front door open and a knife-wielding youth standing over her daughter Emma’s dead body. In the ensuing tussle, Abigail killed the knife-wielding youth.

The regular cop on the scene may have come up with a memorable description of Abigail (“Rich white lady, 100 pounds soaking wet, probably carries her intestines around in a purse”) but he has the case all wrong. Trent immaculately deduces via a combination of observation and intuition: that’s not Emma, it’s her friend; the dead kid with a knife isn’t a killer, he’s a second victim; Emma is missing because she has been abducted.

Once Will is partnered with a very reluctant APD detective, Faith (Iantha Richardson), the hunt for Emma is on and, for home gumshoes who watch their crime shows leaning forward, tongue out, notepad and pen on knee, it’s all a bit basic. Everyone Will and Faith meet turns out to be helpful or guilty, the source of a big breakthrough that is far too easy for the cops to work out: Will is meant to be an annoying genius along the lines of Sherlock or House – appropriately, given the guest role by Morrison, who spent eight years on the show – but clues keep falling neatly into his hands. There’s no need to wonder who a new piece of evidence incriminates: it’s always the person Will and Faith spoke to last.

And yet, this is not a problem. Faith’s withering assessment of her new colleague is a gas (“You alienate people. With your three-piece suit and your little handkerchief and your terrible personality”), but her description of Will isn’t entirely accurate: his personality is its own tasty riddle. He is severely dyslexic and the way this struggle is also a strength is redolent of perhaps his most obvious influence, Adrian Monk from Monk. But he’s not defined by the condition. He carries the scars of his abusive upbringing in the foster-care system, but he’s not consumed by darkness and psychological damage. And despite his fussy attire, commitment to excellence and tendency towards verbal directness, he’s no stiff ascetic: before episode one is done, he has punched someone and had sex with someone else.

Rodríguez’s offhand charisma turns Will – originally created by novelist Karin Slaughter for a series of her bestsellers – into a character where the lack of a defining characteristic is a plus. He’s quirky as hell but not in a way that stops him being a relatable human, as evidenced by his second believable relationship with a woman: Angie Polaski (Erika Christensen), a fellow survivor of children’s homes and a recovering addict who enjoys going undercover with drug dealers a little too much. “We don’t date,” says this tousled renegade of her on/off courtship with Will. “We scurry around in the shadows and wallow in shame.” Their joshing, self-deprecating affection, a love borne of, and potentially ruined by, their shared traumatic past looks to be the show’s beating, bruised heart.

By the time poor Emma has been rescued, Will’s unconventional support network has been constructed – Sonja Sohn is good too as his pragmatic boss Amanda, a character who feels primed for further development – and he’s ready to solve unlimited numbers of crimes in his own special way. Would it be good if those crimes were a bit better plotted? Yes, but in the meantime, we’re happy just hanging with Will’s gang.

• Will Trent is on Disney+