Women’s Murder Club borrows from the most popular genres—traditional cop or lawyer shows and trendy forensics procedurals—and adds in elements from the old-school investigative journalist saga, seemingly offering a little something for everybody. In theory, this structure provides four very different professions to plunder for insight, drama, and professional esoterica. In practice, every corner of the premiere reeked with cliché, raided from some locked cabinet of rejected juvenilia.
The problems begin with the cutout characters, defined by age, job, and marital status. Lindsay (Angie Harmon) is the workaholic, love-starved cop, staple of pretty much every cop show ever made. Her partner, Warren Jacobi (Tyrees Allen), is the kind of father figure every feisty, workaholic girl needs. Allen pumps some spirit into the role, but functions more as a foil for her flounces than have any substantial role in the homicide they were working.
In fact, judging from the premiere, work takes a backseat to the women’s personal lives. Lindsay’s unresolved relationship with her ex, fellow cop Tom (Rob Estes), formed a running theme throughout the episode. Sadly, she and her friends discussed it with all the sophistication of middle-schoolers, all breathless “Have you called him back?” and “You still love him,” as if he were the star school quarterback and she had abandoned him in a fit of pique.
Her confidantes include a commitment-phobic D.A., Jill Bernhardt (Laura Harris) and the goofy youngster, tyro journalist Cindy (Aubrey Dollar). Medical examiner Claire (Paula Newsome) is happily married, black, and less glamorous than the others, an arrangement that goes back at least as far as Cagney & Lacey: if you aren’t sensational-looking, you can settle for domestic bliss. The ladies’ dialogue sounded as if it were lifted from a Nancy Drew novel, with a spot of soft-focus sexual innuendo thrown in to indicate the women do indeed live in the 21st century.
The plotting offered no compensatory pleasures. A journalist was murdered because her story would have revealed a crime (yawn). The good guy with seniority was passed over for promotion, Lindsay found herself working for her ex and forced to confront their contentious past every day, and the suspect who suicided turned out to have been murdered (all storylines we’ve seen before). Worse, though we knew what was going to happen at each step, the crime-solving crew acted as if they were surprised. Don’t they watch TV?
The cop-show-by-numbers approach extends to the labored nods toward diversity. The show’s two African American characters, but they might as well live on separate planets, so carefully are they kept apart. Each thus stands for the exceptional individual who has “made it” into a white world, reproducing wholesale the most common failing of the Law & Order franchise, for example. (It’s hardly surprising but disappointing anyway, that the show features not one Hispanic or Asian lead, although the show is set in San Francisco.)
Women’s Murder Club thus represents network television production at its most cynical and most dismissive of viewers’ intelligence. It assumes that we’ll watch anything with a good-looking lead or two, plus flashy transitions between scenes. The sooner the four women “solve” their last case, the better Friday night will look.