ABC’s promo for The Evidence promised a “riveting new television experience,” but the debut offers the same-old, same-old. The San Francisco detectives at its center form a bickering yet affectionate team, solve grisly murders, and pursue seamy red herrings. It doesn’t help matters in the originality department that the show looks like a Michael Bay production by way of David Fincher: the landscape is alternately saturated in slick blues and acid yellows, and the use of slow motion is typically arbitrary, with staticky flashbacks and jumpy flashforwards lifted straight from the Seven handbook.
Aesthetics aside, The Evidence is troubled as well by the fact that the audience can figure out the identity of the killer before the detectives. Clichéd cops I can forgive, but not cops who are slower to solve crimes than I am. But I can’t dismiss the series entirely, for a few reasons: it features two standout elements for a show of its type—a fresh format and an attempt to generate character depth—and the episode’s finale was surprisingly moving.
First, the show has a gimmick, showing the audience the evidence collected in the case before sensitive Sean Cole (Rob Estes) and swaggering Cayman Bishop (Orlando Jones) arrive at the crime scene. In the first episode, a medical student who works in a hospital pharmacy is murdered after her shift. The items in evidence, presented by forensic specialist Dr. Sol Goldman (Martin Landau), are: the student’s bloody cell phone, a crushed locket, a flowering hydrangea plant with balloons, and a severed finger wearing a compass ring.
You’d expect to find some of these items at a crime scene (the bloody cell phone), but the significance of others is not immediately obvious. (A flower arrangement? Rarely a lethal weapon.) This conceit manages to generate a modicum of suspense, as the viewer waits to see how the different pieces relate and will lead the cops to the killer. The requisite red herrings—here, a seedy sex-club owner and a schizophrenic hospital patient who bears a distracting resemblance to Alan Rickman—are so predictable by this point, their inclusion comes off as clumsy rather than threatening.
Cole’s tragic backstory, the show’s second mark of distinction, is handled more gracefully. We learn his wife was murdered a year earlier and that her killer has never been found. A cop haunted by a traumatic past is not exactly breaking news, but in an otherwise conventional police procedural, it does inject an unusual dose of lingering uncertainty.
Although the genre often depicts disturbingly violent crimes, it ultimately offers reassurance, in the form of solved cases and punished criminals. Presumably Cole and Bishop will crack their cases each week and tidily nab the killers. But the introduction of a running metanarrative that links all the episodes, à la The Fugitive upsets the underlying sense of justice this formula typically provides. Will Cole ever find his wife’s killer and be released from his devastating guilt?
The episode’s most powerful moment—the one that redeems it—comes in the last few minutes, when we learn of the secret Cole keeps locked in his shed. Pasted to its walls is the chilling evidence of his wife’s murder: crime photos of her bullet-ridden corpse, notes from the investigation, and newspaper clippings about her death.
Okay, Cole seems to have taken a cue from the set decorator of A Beautiful Mind, but this revelation illustrates both the obsessive nature of his grief and the unsettling reality that sometimes all the evidence in the world can lead nowhere. The former point is perhaps more subtly drawn in the show’s decision to represent Cole’s loving flashbacks of his wife in the same fashion as it does the flashbacks to the med student’s crime scene (jumpy, yellow-filtered images).
The similarity is telling: for the murder victim, the scene of the crime is where time stops, but for aggrieved love ones, the fixation on happier and more hopeful memories can “stop time” and keep family and friends from moving on with their own lives. This parallel suggests The Evidence may get past its buddy-cop clichés and showy gimmicks, to say something meaningful about the paralyzing effects of loss.