Cop or detective shows nowadays have to have some sort of an extra hook. The main character has some sort of Spidey-sense, or can tell if somebody is lying, or they’re an old rookie — something. Anything!

In the new CTV police procedural Sight Unseen — premiering Sunday after the NFL playoff game and then moving immediately to Monday nights (and also heading to The CW in the U.S.)– Tess Avery’s superpower is that she is clinically blind.

We’re not sure at first how this happened. We see Tess (played by American/British newcomer Dolly Lewis) swimming at an indoor pool early in the pilot. Too much chlorine in the water?

She does have a dangerous job as a homicide detective. She and her police partner, Jake (Daniel Gillies) are giving chase in an abduction case. There is a collision, and Jake is injured. Tess is physically okay but her vision is extremely messed up. She stumbles out of the car and pulls her gun, but cannot see well enough to shoot. The suspect gets away, and Jake looks at his partner as if to say, “What are you — blind?”

That’s because Tess doesn’t tell him that, yes, she is.

This unlikely reaction to sudden blindness could torpedo the whole series if it wasn’t for Lewis. We buy right away that she’s good at her job and it is one that she loves. We also suspect that she doesn’t scare easily and seems determined to overcome.


Tess’s affliction is one experienced by Kat Troubetzkoy, one of two sister showrunners (the other being Niko Troubetzkoy) who created this series. Kat experienced sudden vision loss in her twenties after a night of slam dancing. Many operations later she can see but still experiences some vision outages.

I also have had issues with some sight loss, although nothing on the scale of this TV character — until I shut my good eye. Thankfully, my glaucoma is well under control thanks to some brilliant doctors at Prism Eye Institute in Oakville and Brampton. My experience does help me to not judge Tess’s reluctance to go public with her condition too sharply.

Still, viewers don’t know that. It does seem preposterous that Tess quits her detective job without copping to the fact that she can no longer see properly. Her squad boss, played by Roger Cross (Coroner), registers just enough disappointment and incredulity in his one scene in the pilot to help carry it.

All this is building to one big recommendation, however. Stick with this series. It gets interesting and ultimately, very, very suspenseful.

Tess learns there are apps for this, as in sight assisted navigation. She’s skeptical, and self medicates by hopping into bed with a hot young dude. When she awakens, Tess can’t even see well enough to find her clothes in order to make a quick getaway.

The scene where she starts testing apps half naked to get some vision help is clever and funny. it takes three calls before there’s another woman on the line who can help her locate her bra (under the sleepy dude’s arm).

The woman turns out to be Sunny Patel (Agam Darshi from DMZ), who guides Tess via a micro-camera. She tells her eight paces here, turn left there, shake hands, cross the street — all helping Tess pass as sighted.

This too seems hard to believe, but these apps do exist. The creators told me they were big fans of the Melissa McCarthy movie “Spy” where a similar app service is used. Some of the writers of Sight Unseen, who have vision loss, also rely on these apps.

Sunny, as we learn, has her own secrets. One biggie is that she’s agoraphobic, and only leaves her New York apartment through the eyes of her clients. This gets her a little too wrapped up in her clients’ lives, as Tess begins to discover.

The rest of the pilot has Tess stubbornly bulling her way back onto the case, risking her life and gradually trusting and depending on Sunny to get her in and out of tight spots. Tess’s clouded and aided point-of-view becomes the reason to keep watching. The character’s blurry, unfocussed, light and shadow-y sight is juxtaposed with what Sunny sees: sometimes a dark basement, or a locked door. Eventually something very, very frightening.

Because the viewer has both perspectives, episodes build towards an incredibly suspenseful climax. It’s the old, “Don’t go in that abandoned warehouse!” motif, with the viewer holding the flashlight.

It helps that John Fawcett (Orphan Black) directs several episodes and also acts as an executive producer. Certainly the Troubetzkoy’s deserve credit as visionaries, seeing a new way to spin a cop show.

Dolly Lewis, however, is the one to watch. She’s funny in the funny scenes, deadly serious in the drama. The actress has her own issues with sight loss — not on the scale of the character, but enough clearly to not have to just rely on the script in order to play these scenes.

Her super power is that she makes you believe that Tess is real. That is something to see.


  1. Patrick Kelly Reply

    Cops nowadays?
    Oh Bill! Have forgotten Longstreet? Cannon? Ironside? Medium? Seeing Things?
    I’m sure I’m missing lots of others.

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