TNT should change their old motto: with the new original ten-episode mystery series “Murder in the First,” the don’t knew drama, they knew it. Very past tense. It’s the latest police procedural from Steven Bochko (“NYPD Blue”) teamed with Yale-educated Eric Lodal — and it’s so meta that it actually seems like a TV Show that exists in a tangential slice within another movie, like the Kristen Bell’s TV vehicle in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
“Murder in the First,” first, is a police procedural with an initial moderately grisly murder in San Francisco (cue establishing shot of Golden Gate Bridge) that sets off an investigation by an unlikely Starsky & Hutch that will last out the entire season through investigation, arrest and trial. The unlikely partners that will ultimately grow closer than most married couples are Terry English (Taye Diggs of “Private Practice” and “Chicago”) and Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson, best known for “Beverly Hills, 90210”).
Who names someone Hildy Mulligan these days? It’s such a screenwriter’s grab. It sounds like a stenographer in “The Front Page.”
[Related: Why David Tennant Slays ‘The Escape Artist’]
But the show has worse problems, despite having a Silicone Valley villain played by Draco Malfoy aka Tom Felton, an obvious devil with blue eyes (or blue contacts). So obvious, we have to guess he didn’t do it — although I’m not sticking around to find out.
They lost me at the set-up: Terry’s wife is dying of cancer — and he just cannot handle it. OK: we get it. This will be the spiritual bruise he shoulders throughout the series. Hey, there, lonely man, lonely man. So, her character is dying of cancer to define him — therefore she is an absolute saint.
The show starts with Terry at his wife’s bedside, then talking to her white bespectacled doctor who couldn’t be clearer that she’s stage four plus pancreatic. This is it, man, think of her not you and go hospice. But Terry, as he agonizes at his desk (having a hissy fit when he cannot open a drawer), in his car behind rain-splashed windows and by her bed, just won’t let her go gently into the night. Which makes him seem like a big git because this poor pale woman in a hospital bed has to comfort him and stroke his bald head and tell him the story of how she first fell in love with him on a roller coaster when he showed his fear. And she’s the one that’s effing dying!
I’m so enamored of the harder-boiled, more grounded Danish “The Bridge” and the French “Spiral,” shows where the initial murder leads to season-long investigation and police team bonding/fraying. In contrast, “Murder in the First” strikes me like the “Guiding Light” version of a police procedural. Every emotion is so telegraphed, every bit of dialog so overdrawn, so many scenes are used to make each point that it’s almost like watching American TV with English subtitles. When [spoiler alert] Terry’s wife finally passes, he gets the news at a crime scene which is meant to be edgy because there is a nude blonde posed face down on a flight of stairs, her insouciant bottom in plain sight. So, the news: he takes it with a classic stagger, hand feeling for a piece of furniture to steady himself, bowed head, one juicy tear.
We get it — and don’t even get me started on Hildy’s character and how the divorced single mum jumps out of bed, awoken by a call from her deadbeat ex, and goes through her rushed morning routine in a perky music-driven montage. She shakes her expensively tousled, streaked blond hair, grabs her cutie patootie school-aged daughter, shoves a gun in her own waistband, stops for a cheery-bye at the school bus, and then arrives at the station with two hours worth of professional make-up covering any flaw she might possibly have.
Truth is: the make-up is the flaw. By definition, the flaws make this kind of show interesting. Because isn’t the capacity to commit murder the ultimate flaw in human nature? The society’s will to rectify it our redemption?