TV Review: 'Women's Murder Club'
ABC hopes it finally has a winning crime-show formula
The actual "Women's Murder Club" premieres on ABC at 9 p.m. ET Friday (Oct. 12), and it's about a group of women in San Francisco -- a detective, a prosecutor, a medical examiner and a reporter -- who pool their skills and resources to solve murders (not orchestrate them). The network has been unable to crack the crime-show code in recent years (remember "The Evidence?" "10-8"? Me neither), and "WMC" doesn't re-invent the genre. But although this show is unquestionably a crime procedural, the characters are given a little to breath within that structure, and that qualifies as something different in this day and age.
The show is based on James Patterson's best-selling series of books ("1st to Die," "2nd Chance" et al), and the author is an executive producer. The series, however, isn't yoked to the novels; they seem to be serving more as guidebooks than sacred texts. It's probably a smart decision, because the show -- co-created by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, veterans of "The Shield" -- seems almost as interested in the personal lives of its characters as in the crimes they solve.
Thus viewers are treated to a scene in which San Francisco PD Inspector Lindsay Boxer ("Law & Order" veteran Angie Harmon) goes to her prosecutor friend Jill Bernhardt (Laura Harris, "24") for help on a case and ends up getting quizzed about the run-in Lindsay had with her ex (Rob Estes), who's now her boss. Or Lindsay, Jill and medical examiner Claire Washburn (Paula Newsome) discussing Jill's boyfriend while Claire checks a victim's body for evidence.
Into their midst comes reporter Cindy Thomas (Aubrey Dollar), who's taken by the way the three work together (conflicts of interest are not an issue here) and wants to join the club that the other three keep insisting doesn't exist. Cindy soon proves to be a valuable asset, and the others eventually let her into the circle.
The juxtaposition of brutal crime and chatty personal stories should feel more awkward than it does, if only because 17 seasons of "Law & Order" have taught us not to expect it. But the lead quartet handles it with something approaching ease, selling the idea that these women know each other well enough that it's second nature to mix work and girl talk.
That willingness to look up from the evidence every now and then also keeps "Women's Murder Club" from feeling as relentlessly dark and somber as a lot of other crime shows. The tone is not exactly breezy -- the second episode involves a multiple murder on a subway car -- but it doesn't revel in the gory details either. (There is, however, an open serial-killer case in the background of the first two episodes, and when it comes front and center, presumably during a sweeps period, it will definitely amp up the ick factor.)
As the workaholic Lindsay, Harmon is sort of first among equals in the cast, and she brings the same sharp edges to the character as she did to her "Law & Order" prosecutor several years back. It's unlikely Harris will get to use many of the comedic gifts she showed in "Dead Like Me" here, but she is allowed a few non-serious moments that seem to work well for her. Newsome is the calming presence -- and the only one with anything resembling a stable romantic life -- and Dollar comes off as smart and competent at her job, if a little pushy (she is playing a reporter, after all).
"Women's Murder Club" probably won't change the face of television, at least not in the low-traffic timeslot where ABC has parked it. Given the built-in fan base for Patterson's novels, though, it may finally give the network a procedural with more than a half-season's worth of potential.