Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, March 26, 2005
      ( 3/26/2005 11:19:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"LOOK! NBC MYSTERY MOVIE!" – Down in the nether regions of basic cable the folks at the Hallmark Channel have, without much fanfare, been reviving the weekly mystery format with a series of shows featuring familiar teevee actors as clues-gathering sleuths. Caught a couple of 'em in the past week: clearly there's an audience for this kind of familiarly old-fashioned tele-genre, and some days I'm part of it. There are times when the idea that an amateur busybody like Jessica Fletcher or Kellie Martin's Samantha Kinsey (the bookstore owning heroine of Mystery Woman) or an unbelievably forthright lawyer like John Larroquette's McBride can make sense of things, well, let's just say that it can be darn reassuring.

Having watched two entries (there's at least one other series starring Lea Thompson, Jane Doe, that I haven't sampled yet), I'd say the folks at Hallmark have accomplished what they set out to do. Woman appears to be the weaker mystery – both my wife and I figured out the identity of the killer within the first half hour, a deadly failing in a two-hour movie (though there was a nice nod to Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures within the solution) – while McBride efficiently follows the same tv-movie patterns that creator Dean Hargrove established back when he was spearheading the two-hour Perry Masons. (There's even a young male assistant á la William Katt to handle all the rough house stuff.) As someone who's always considered the second run of the Raymond Burr Mason to be markedly inferior to its scruffy black-and-white predecessor, I can't say I'm thrilled to see the formulae resurrected, but I'm guessing there's still an audience for it in the Law And Order/C.S.I. world.

While some folks, based on her ill-written run on E.R., have had issue with Martin as an actress, I've always found her particular brand of neurotic tenseness endearing. It's put to good use in this vehicle, even if the rest of the cast seems rather disinterested in all the mysterious goings-on. Larroquette may take some getting used to after so many years of smarmy lawyering on Night Court, but he tackles his role with his customary panache. As an ex-cop-turned-lawyer, McBride shows so qualms about barging in anywhere uninvited, which provides some decent light moments. (He's pushy, but righteously pushy.) Biggest problem with the supporting cast: a dog who gets too many camera shots being bright-eyed and barky. Okay, we get it: the pooch is smart!

Not Bad Teevee, anyway, that – like Lifetime movies or original programming on Spike – probably already has a steady audience of regulars who make a point of following each channel. If we weren't in the midst of March Madness basketball preemptions, I probably wouldn't have even noticed these tele-flicks. But it's nice to know cable channel proliferation keeps offering new job ops for decent series leads. . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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