ABC's 'Murder Club': Femme Fatalities

The Crimes Don't Play on This Chick Fest

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2007

The first thing to know about "Women's Murder Club," ABC's newest entry into the crowded crime-procedural genre, is that it's as much a chick-bonding show as a murder-solving one. Which is good and bad, depending on what you're looking for to fill the television dead zone that is Friday nights.

Based on the characters in a series by author James Patterson -- whose "Murder Club" books have numbers in their titles, as in "1st to Die," "2nd Chance," etc. -- the show centers on four women whose jobs happen to bring them together around dead bodies a lot of the time.

As Lt. Lindsay Boxer, a homicide detective, Angie Harmon is the show's centerpiece, the latest of television's tough chicks with tousled, sexy hair and dysfunctional personal lives. She wears skinny jeans and somehow manages to run after the bad guy despite three-inch heels on her trendy ankle boots.

The three other members of the "club" are Laura Harris as deputy district attorney Jill Bernhardt, Paula Newsome as medical examiner Claire Washburn and Aubrey Dollar as crime reporter Cindy Thomas. Harris is annoying with her boyfriend angst and barely seems to do any lawyering (oh, and she throws up at crime scenes), Washburn is warm and motherly, and Dollar is the overly aggressive, hyperactive young one who does things in pursuit of stories that would get her fired from any reputable newspaper.

Together they manage to solve crimes and squeeze in plenty of discussion about their bad boyfriends or annoying exes, even if it means doing so over a corpse. Realism, in other words, is not the show's strong suit; pretty much all of it (the detecting, the lawyering, the examining and the reporting) can be described as "lite." Fans of the "CSI" and "Law & Order" franchises should not be hanging onto their seats, waiting for cool forensics or complicated legal plot twists.

(Case in point: In the pilot, a breakthrough moment at an autopsy comes when Washburn reveals that a workaholic, career-obsessed, unmarried female murder victim had what is referred to as "not your mama's bikini wax." Which, in this world, is rock-solid proof that she had a secret man in her life.)

For those pining for some rapid-fire girl talk, though, the show does have its moments, particularly given that Harmon -- best known previously as one of the many buttoned-up deputy district attorneys on "Law & Order" -- really loosens up. Absent from a regular gig on television the past six years (she married football star Jason Sehorn and had two kids), Harmon shines as the relationship-challenged cop who ruined her marriage because she was so fixated on a still-unsolved serial killer case.

What remains to be seen is how fans of the books react to the reimagining of their beloved characters in television form. (The nitpickers are sure to complain that Boxer is blond in the books. Live with it! Even Patterson thinks Harmon is ideal for the role.) The show essentially adopts the names, personalities and careers of Patterson's creations, but not his plotlines, which tend to serial killers, who don't necessarily come around every week.

Up against NBC's critical darling "Friday Night Lights" and CBS's new supernatural drama, "Moonlight," "Murder Club's" combination of two different television genres -- and its hiring of two women, Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, to adapt Patterson's work -- makes it clear that ABC is hoping to capture the Friday night female demographic. (The show is a lead-in for the Anne Heche vehicle "Men in Trees.") Patterson is involved, but only as a producer. Suffice it to say, his mysteries don't usually turn on the contours of a bikini wax.

Women's Murder Club (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 7.

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