As my pal Scott Tobias is quick to point out, Women's Murder Club is, sadly, not about women who murder. Nor is it, thankfully, about a club full of people who murder women. Nevertheless, the series' first victim is a woman: a nosy San Francisco investigative reporter who lands on the roof of a car in the show's first minute, shattering the windshield and unloosing the premise. The reporter crashes right in front of Angie Harmon, a police lieutenant who solves crimes with the help of her two best friends: A.D.A. Laura Harris and M.E. Paula Newsome. Hovering just outside the circle–and giving the episode its title–is Aubrey Dollar, a cub reporter who wants to follow in the footsteps of her dead colleague. (Only without the dead part.)
Give Women's Murder Club credit for hitting the ground running. Perhaps because its based on a popular James Patterson mystery series–or perhaps because the producers assume that their target audience has watched TV before–the first episode doesn't waste a lot of time introducing these women or their jobs. The ladies just jump right into trying to solve the case–a case which I would tell you all about if I could remember any of the details. Dead reporter. Many enemies. Secret admirer. Secret lover. Tense interrogation. Last second revelation. Case solved. Unexpected coda. The end. I'm assuming you've watched TV before too, right?
I have a soft spot for mystery shows, but rarely am I overly interested in the actual mystery. The mystery shows that have worked best over the years–from Perry Mason to Columbo to House–are more about charismatic leading characters, entertaining interactions, surprising turns of logic, and location, location, location. With Women's Murder Club, we're supposed to be won over by the San Francisco exotica and hooked on these four workaholic women's tangled love lives, which they chat about while standing around at crime scenes. (Harmon: "The body hit my car while I was on the phone, talking to Tom." Harris, brightly: "Tom called?")
After complaining in this week's Crosstalk about the lack of good roles for women in the new fall shows, I have to give Women's Murder Club credit for introducing four theoretically well-rounded female characters, played by four actresses with distinctive looks and voices. Concept-wise and casting-wise, WMC is spot-on. But boy is the writing ever lousy. "Welcome To The Club" may not spend much time establishing the leads' jobs and friendship, but it spends every spare non-crime-solving second establishing their generic "modern woman" anxiety. Will they ever find love? If so, will their lovers be able to understand that their jobs come first? Is there any Häagen-Dazs left in the freezer? (Okay, I made that last one up…but it is that kind of show.)
The one-dimensional approach to career women–with the exception of Newsome, whose character is apparently happily married–would be tolerable if the dialogue at least had a little pulpy flavor, but this is the best Harmon's ex-husband comes up with when she asks him if he ever cheated on her: "We were married. That comes with stuff."
"Stuff"? I realize that this kind of inarticulate speech is supposed to represent the way people really coverse, but…do people really converse that way? Or is that just some TV writer's attempt to be breezy? If so, to that writer, I'd pose a lament that any chick-lit scribe should be familiar with: How come we don't talk anymore?
-This has been the season of non-LA/NY urban locations, but with so many cities to choose from, TV producers should do a better job of spreading out. Whenever Harmon or Dollar walked into the latter's newspaper office, I kept wondering if they'd run into Journeyman.