HAVE you ever wondered how a TV programme got created? Possibly not. Something genuinely original will draw you in instantly, you’ll forget these people and their stories aren’t real. That’s the mark of good telly. Anything else isn’t worth watching. Right?
The first thing I find myself considering about Body of Proof is the awkward title. A bit like Body of Evidence, a great title but already taken. Body of Proof sounds like they couldn’t think of anything better. This doesn’t bode well.
Never mind. I’m a cop-show junkie – I’ll give anything new a chance, at least for an hour.
As new Philadelphia Medical Examiner Megan Hunt, played by Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives), struggles to bond with her new professional partner while unpicking the last hours of a woman found floating in the Schuylkill River, far from suspending disbelief, I continue to contemplate the process by which these things get made.
It’s as if a group of executives sat around a boardroom table and asked: ‘What makes a successful TV detective? Who do people like? What do they like about them, exactly? And how can we get that for our Dana Delany vehicle? This has got to make money, people.
‘Well, viewers like House because he’s damaged, physically and emotionally, irascible, has authority issues, and is brilliant. He puts people’s backs up, he runs rings ‘round his supervisor, but he gets away with it because he always solves the case. Also, he’s a medic, not a cop. And Patrick Jane – people like him because he’s not a cop but he always ends up taking over and solving the case himself, using skills from a former life. And he’s been transformed by personal tragedy, let’s have some of that. So, OK. People like pathologists and scientists, people who obsess about physical detail – look at Quincy, look at CSI. What if we updated Quincy? How about a brilliant surgeon, with a health problem that’s made it impossible to continue in medicine? Maybe they killed someone on the operating table. Like Quincy, they could end up always solving the case. What else?
‘Who watches crime shows? Women! Women like female protagonists, don’t they? Like Brenda-Lee in The Closer. She’s tough, knows how to get the job done. And look how successful Medium was. It’s all that family stuff, Brenda-Lee’s parents and love-life, Allison’s husband and kids. They like the contrast. Oh, you know what that reminds me of – Shark. The hard-nosed professional trying to form a relationship with his daughter, negotiating access with his ex. Can we do that? Let’s do that.
‘This is great! So, who else is in this? What about the boss lady from Shark? She was good. Can we get Geri Ryan to do that again? And how about Sonja Sohn? Greggs was lots of people’s favourite character in The Wire. We don’t need her gritty personal life – she can just be a detective, you know, not not Greggs.
‘And we’ll need a few more – how about a geeky tech in the lab? Young, socially awkward, super-intelligent, like Matthew Gray-Gubler in Criminal Minds. And the relationship between Medium, Allison Dubois and Detective Scanlon – the way he grounds her. We should do something like that. What if we partner Megan with a Medical Investigator who used to be a cop?’
I have no proof whatsoever that any of this happened, but I promise you it did. Which is why the programme is so terrible. Except it isn’t.
Megan is engaging precisely because she’s mystified by personal relationships and workplace co-operation, and Delany portrays her with humanity and wit. It’s easy enough to accept the other characters – most are there because they already worked, and there’s nothing at all wrong with the acting. The murder mystery scenarios are commonplace enough, but convincingly realized by writer/producer Christopher Murphey, who honed his writing skills on a TV comedy horror movie called Dead Lawyers and the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. Think back to Season 1 of House. Hugh Laurie was compelling, but the rest of the cast were ciphers, and the stories all conformed to a simple format. With hints of romance for geek Ethan and workplace tensions for Megan arising from her ex-husband’s lovelife, there’s arguably more potential here.
I admit, I do regard it as ‘comfort telly’– I don’t put it on expecting to be challenged. While The Closer and Medium are about honest-to-goodness real-life women, this has the glamorous sheen of the straight-up crowd pleaser – little wonder it’s the most successful programme on Alibi. But nine episodes later, I’m wondering how soon I can see Season 2, and made anxious by rumours there won’t be a Season 3.
It seems they came up with a winning formula.