Have you ever been set up on a blind date and five minutes in you think, “I’ve got to get out of this”? You just know this person isn’t for you. There will be no love connection. You immediately begin plotting your escape.
I have that a lot with TV shows. You can tell a lot from a series’ opening minutes. I start watching a new show and five minutes in, I think, “I need to stop watching this.” That happened to me at the beginning of Fox’s new drama, Proven Innocent. At the beginning of the series, about a group of plucky lawyers who overturn the convictions of innocent people, Madeline Scott (Rachelle Lefevre) visits Caleb, a man who she believes committed the crime that her client is currently in jail for. In a moment of bad horror movie stupidity, she visits him alone at night in an isolated area with a court order to collect his DNA. “People know I’m here, Caleb,” she tells him as he reaches for his gun. “You take me out, there’s going to be 10 more tomorrow. And another 10 the next day.” If 10 people were available to accompany her, why aren’t they there now? How can I trust a protagonist who behaves so foolishly? I was ready to tag out. But, dear readers, I persevered.
The real-life problem of wrongly convicted people serving time captures headlines and is terrific material for a TV drama. But Proven Innocent is marred by a lot of nonsense like what I described above. That’s surprising, since it comes from Danny Strong, the writer behind Game Change and Empire.
In fact, Proven Innocent has a lot of “what’s a nice actor/writer/producer like you doing on a show like this?” Madeline runs her law firm with her partner Easy Boudreau (Russell Hornsby), the lawyer who freed Madeline and her brother when they were wrongly convicted of murdering her best friend. (I’d like to enter into evidence the fact that Easy is a bad name for a character, but the show has so many other issues that I’m allowing it.) Bodie Quick (Vincent Kartheiser) is the firm’s investigator, while Violet Price (Nikki M. James) hosts a legal podcast and runs the firm’s social media and communications. Their collective nemesis is Gore Bellows (Kelsey Grammer doing his best Kelsey Grammer), the prosecutor who put Madeline in jail for allegedly murdering her best friend. “I honestly thought you were guilty,” he tells her with a sneer. “In fact, I still do,”
Fox made two episodes available for review—the pilot and the season’s fourth episode. It’s a testament to the episodic nature of the series that missing the two intervening episodes in no way impeded my ability to understand what was going on. The pilot follows a woman accused of setting her house on fire and murdering her child. The fourth episode focuses on a woman accused of murdering her unborn child by taking a late-term abortion pill. Spoiler alert! In both cases, the defendants are found innocent and immediately set free. It will be interesting to see if sometimes the firm doesn’t win the appeal, isn’t able to get justice for the client. Or if the client turns out not to be innocent after all. With only two episodes, it’s hard to gauge what the series’ big-picture plan is.
The one overarching mystery is, who really did murder Madeline’s best friend? Is her brother, who has struggled since being let out of prison, actually innocent? Flashbacks continue to unfold the mystery. And old high-school frenemies come around to say things like, “I’ll tell you exactly how you can find Rosemary’s killer. Look in the mirror.”
In a plot that seems like a holdover from Grammer’s Starz series, Boss, there’s also Bellows running for Attorney General and all the nasty tricks he tries to pull to ensure his victory. Sometimes when I see Grammer in this type of role, I remember he played beloved TV character Frasier for 20 years and just heavily sigh. When I realize Kartheiser went from Mad Men to this, I sigh even more—and exclaim, “Not great, Bob!”
So far, the result is a serviceable episodic show, one that lacks the pulpy fun of 9-1-1 and the gravitas of The Good Fight. It is, for example, a fine show to watch while you’re paying bills or folding laundry.
But if you want to change the channel, that’s fine, too.
Proven Innocent premieres Friday, February 15 at 9 p.m. on FOX
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .