Saturday, April 9, 2011

Random Review: TV's "Body of Proof"

Today I have a lot of items on a to-do list, but somehow, as is wont to happen when that is the case, the priority order of the items is a fairly direct inversion of the order in which I approach them. As such, here's today's blog entry, which is somehow more approachable in the middle of the afternoon than income taxes. Who's surprised? No one! That's right. Check mark next to "fishcrockpot." Uncle Sam? Still waiting.

Well, after discussing "Law & Order" a bit yesterday, and a bit more with loyal crock reader and entertainment connoisseur Den, and further reflection upon my real and true love for the original (and best!) version of the show, I decided to go ahead and share my review of ABC's new series "Body of Proof," a show that ehhh, I'm going to say stole a character model from "Law & Order," then expanded a bit and borrowed some Grey's Anatomy themes to make a one-hour drama I'm giving a C. But do recall that I have exacting television standards (though I watch a great deal of crap) and also that my loyalty to "Law & Order" makes my reviews of anything that might borrow from it a bit harsh. For instance, my take on "Law & Order Los Angeles"? Abomination.
Really. Talk to me, Dick Wolf. Why the melodrama?

Dana Delaney stars in "Body of Proof" as a neurosurgeon turned medical examiner who takes to solving murders based on the clues the dead bodies themselves give to her about the lives they lived and the emotions they felt, which in turn lead her to the real killer rather than the easiest target and most obvious choice of individual on whom to pin the murder and call the case closed, which is invariably the tact taken by the, we're to presume, donut-loving schlub of a detective who doesn't respect the medical examiner's powers of deduction, because aren't you just supposed to slice up dead people and not be a mouthy broad anyway? Yeah. Looks like he's learning a lesson or two about powerful women! And our hard-nosed coroner had to start working with dead people to let her own emotions come to life! Quite a twist!

I have seen 2 episodes of this show, the pilot, and episode 3. I gave the show a second chance after watching the pilot and saying out loud to my television at several points "This show is so bad!" because I had initially had a so-so reaction to the pilot episode of the Fox cop show "Chicago Code," but now have added it to my DVR list as a regular. Also, television is currently in that doldrums period before May sweeps but after shows air their regular episodes in which I am scrambling for new blood on the boob tube. "Body of Proof" did enough advertising for me to give it a shot, but this new blood, like the blood on the show, is, unfortunately, cold.

Dana Delaney is ok and apparently remembers all of the basics of putting on rubber medical gloves for dramatic effect from her days on "China Beach," but her character on that show was far more charming for seemingly having nuance as a human being, which this new character is still struggling to establish. We're to believe that this super type-A hardnosed, take-no-prisoners-or-B.S. coroner only became one after literally wrecking her own career, marriage, and relationship with her daughter by way of driving and fighting with her ex-husband while on her cell phone and ending up T-boned by an oncoming car, which put an end to her days as a neurosurgeon. Now, I'm even willing to take the leap that a neurosurgeon would become a coroner, but she's seemingly the coldest fish in the morgue, stiffer than the stiffs she slices and dices, only finding redemption by slowly realizing she should connect with other people around her, all of whom are wowed by her brilliance yet put off by her icy attitude. List of coworkers who are impressed and puzzled and loving and hating her includes:
- Curtis, a character who is, in my opinion, the male Jackee of this series. He's sassy and African-American and eh, I'm going to go ahead and say I find him moderately insulting in the flatness of his character. He doesn't get the respect afforded Dr. Hunt (Delaney), and everyone calls him Curtis, even though he's a doctor. Trying to prove himself on part with Dr. Hunt and not threatened by her as a person has, thus far, failed miserably and comically, but don't think he's not bringing the sass as he learns the hard way she is not one to be trifled with. Sigh.
- The young nerdy guy who wants to learn all he can from her and is also helplessly inept at dealing with human beings
- Jeri Ryan, an inexplicably hot boss who I still can't determine whether she's a cop or a medical examiner or a city official? Somehow she's a hot, self-assured boss who wears the business clothing that characters on soap operas wear to show they're businessy yet sexy, and is slowly trying to chip away at Delaney's tough exterior while still being in power above her (in a position I don't understand). I'm still hoping that her character ends up being a lesbian, because otherwise I am confused about the instances in which she shows tenderness to Dr. Hunt that to me seem to also be slightly like she's trying to seduce her. Someone let me know how that storyline plays out!
- The schlub cop who is, much like the sassy black man, right out of central casting in his annoyance and schlubery when confronted with the no-nonsense sophistication and troublemaking of this new coroner who'll NEVER back down when it comes to avenging the deaths of the bodies she's given. I could not figure out why the actor playing schlub cop looked so familiar to me and in a role that was so different from schlub cop or at least way more likable. I kept thinking of the guy who was the Dude's landlord in The Big Lebowski. Turns out this guy was Margie Gunderson's wife in Fargo. Lovable. Adoring. Into his stamp art. That guy in a very small movie part in which I'm guessing he had about 12 lines total was completely and totally a well-rounded and real and believable character. This? Not so much. We get it. He's going to have to learn to work with and appreciate Dr. Hunt. And vice versa. But is it really going to be a "tell me what killed the guy and then beat it!" conceit every episode? Looks that way.

My guess at inspiration point for this show is, because she was fantastic, the M.E. on "Law & Order," expertly played by Leslie Hendrix in a recurring and stone-cold way. Sure, her hair color changed, but her wry smile and emotionless delivery of terrible news about victims that then sent our favorite detectives down the right path toward the perp was consistent and delightful in its cold remove. What if she were the principle character? What would her home life look like? What if that icy exterior had left her cold and alone? Dead in her own life, in a way? Now of course I could be wrong. The inspiration for this show could have just as easily been Doc Hollywood or Mrs. Doubtfire. But unfortunately for me, it has not established a character likable or believable enough that I care about her redemption, or a crime drama believable enough that I don't groan when the case is solved by the coroner asking the guilty party enough questions about their morally reprehensible crime that finally the guilt and the pressure make them break and admit they did it. Jessica Fletcher and Matlock could get away with that because they were unexpected super sleuths and lovable old people. Somehow the totally unlovable science-based yet heart-driven crime solver does not, to me, inspire the same degree of gut-spilling from the guilty. But that is how the show resolves itself. Usually then ending with Dana Delaney considering her own life, and learning lessons from the dead. And her coworkers, of course.

I think "Body of Proof" will be a success.
But much like Dr. Hunt is too driven to have prevented alienating her own child and husband from her life, I am too damned invested in the quality of crime drama presented season upon season by "Law & Order" original to settle for a reductionist and unbelievable version of a powerful woman solving crimes of the heart with the cold heart she's finally warming up to.

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