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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
WOMEN'S MURDER CLUB (ABC)
(Fridays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)
The network's description: "Based on James Patterson's bestselling novels, The Women's Murder Club, four working women in San Francisco - a detective, a district attorney, a medical examiner and a reporter - use their expertise and unique talents to solve murder cases. Each woman is successful in her own field, but because of their unique friendship, they realize that pooling their resources during investigations leads to undiscovered clues and answers in both work and their personal lives."
What did they leave out: An early draft of the script had Laura Harris's character being killed off at the end of the pilot. Also, while listed as a cast member, Rob Benedict's character, a CSI tech, as far as I can tell doesn't appear in the pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: A session with the department psychiatrist (Robert Patrick) frames the story of newly promoted police Lt. Lindsay Boxer (Angie Harmon). We're told she recently suffered through a "traumatic event" and a set of flashbacks fill us in on what lead to said event - her latest case involving the so-called "Vendetta Killer," who's just left a fresh set of bodies in his or her wake. Thankfully, Lindsay's not alone in her quest for justice. She and her three friends - medical examiner Claire Washburn (Paula Newsome), ADA Jill Bernhardt (Laura Harris) and crime reporter Cindy Thomas (Aubrey Dollar) - have formed a secret club in which they share information, not to mention lean on each other in times of need (in TV terms that means eat Chinese food and/or ice cream together). In addition to the aforementioned killer, the quartet have their own personal problems - Lindsay has just slept with her ex-husband (Christopher Wiehl), only to have him tell her he's getting married to someone else; usually tough gal Cindy can't seem to find the courage to dump her boyfriend (Joshua Leonard); and Jill's current trial (involving a different killer whom the group caught) is starting to fall apart. In any case, all four pound their respective pavements to turn up leads for Lindsay, not to mention help Jill put one in the win column. Along the way we meet Lindsay's crotchety partner Warren Jacobi (Tyrees Allen), whom she dubs "of all the grouchy, misogynistic men in this world, you are my favorite"; Jill's perky protege Yuki Castellano (Elizabeth Ho), who wants in on the group; and a mayor's aid ("What About Brian's" Matthew Davis), who makes eyes at Lindsay. Their roads eventually lead to Helen Frazier (Heidi Mokrycki), a lonely heart trying to cover for her ex-con boyfriend. As for Jill's case, the gang manages to pull a rabbit (in the form of a hotel bill and some security tape footage) out of their collect hats to put her guy in prison. And so our girls share a celebratory cocktail, another hard day a work behind them... or is it? In an unexpected twist, all we thought we knew may not be true as... well, I won't spoil the show's final twist.
What works: While the Twist-That-Must-Not-Be-Spoiled (TM pending) adds a much needed spark on the procedural side it's actually the sequence leading up to it that makes we want to stick around. Like all closing music montages, it's almost self-evident at this point that they involve characters being put on the road to recovery or putting figurative bows on that hour's storyline. Here however we instead see the girls fail or expose previously unmentioned weaknesses, a lovely twist that gives each of them a surprising depth. Helping things along is a likeable cast - especially Newsome and Allen - and a thankfully restrained take on the expected "girl power" elements.
What doesn't: What makes me think twice however is the needlessly complicated script, which doles out names, dates and locations at a staccato like pace without much differentiation between them. Even worse is that because of this Lindsay and Jill's cases start to blur together, especially when the defense attorney in Jill's case starts making references to a different serial killer at large. It's enough so that when the respective cases are initially solved/won, there's a definite feeling of "umm, maybe I'm missing something" - and not in the purposefully-done-because-they're-more-clever-than-you way. In the end, "Club" proves to be something a mixed bag - potentially interesting characters thrown into haphazard storytelling - one we'll have to wait and see if it's worthy of appointment viewing.
The bottom line: A good cast and some interesting twists help save the show from becoming another boilerplate procedural.