Photo: James White / TNT

And Nothing But The Truth

Murder In The First's least credible bits are its most old-fashioned.

Murder In The First has a lot of things to recommend it: its very likable leads, a strong bench of secondary and tertiary character-actor characters, and a (possible) bad guy who's eminently root-against-able. The shot of Steven Weber's Bill Wilkerson getting his trippy face-paint drum-circle dance on at Burning Man would have convinced me to commit even if I were wavering on the show -- which I'm not, but the show needs to get out of its own Bochco-y, "this is how it's always been done" way on a few things.

Let's start with the officer-involved shooting that's hung Hildy up for the last episode or two. Kathleen Robertson is very real with the material, but the subplot has two problems. One, it's not necessary. Murder In The First is ostensibly about a single case that we follow along with the law-enforcement protagonists to its conclusion; the abusive waste of space Hildy shot has nothing to do with the central story, except that his stepson who called Hildy for help is a marginal witness. We've all seen the "cop shoots a bad guy, gets suspended, weirds around at home driving the fam nuts and kind of steps in it during the IAB deposition, only to get his/her badge and gun back at XX:56 in the episode" thing a gazillion times, and it's not any more interesting as part of a regular series, but it's particularly frustrating here when the story is ten episodes, full stop, and we've already spent part of this episode...at Burning Man, with a jag wearing porny VR goggles programmed by his unbelievably annoying girlfriend.

Two, I didn't buy it. The same mom who will take repeated horrible beatings is all of a sudden a cold-blooded, perjury-suborning cynic who's fine with golden-ticketing her way to a legal settlement against the city? That's a pretty long con, and I don't buy it. I also don't buy that Terry would go to see the kid and successfully guilt-trip him into changing his story, or that Hildy would go to meet the mom in the first place, much less that she wouldn't walk away the minute the mom started ragging on her for ruining her lawsuit -- or that the mom is crafty enough to hire the kind of lawyer who can tweak her version of events to make Hildy actionable, but then stupid enough to contact her directly all "go tell my kid to change his story back so I won't have to work three jobs." The whole thing has a whiff of stale soapbox, and in a longer series run, with more time to develop some of the ideas, it's not a completely useless direction to go in -- Corina Calderon's performance as the mom is interesting -- but here, I don't get why it's here and I don't believe the basic premise.

I don't entirely believe that Warren Daniels would quit on Erich Blunt, either. Not that I didn't enjoy him taking his leave of the visitation area by wishing Blunt luck, then agreeing with Blunt that no, he didn't mean it; or his acidic "you left DNA in the victim's mouth, YOU IDIOT." But Blunt is the defendant in a capital-murder case, not a boarding-school sophomore who needs to be taught a lesson about consequences; I don't think a defense attorney that prominent just bails on a client who's even more prominent even if the court allows it, which I don't believe either. Is this just a way of subtly turning our sympathies toward Blunt, guiding us towards pitying him for feeling abandoned and letting that resonate with his birth-parents situation? (See also: Blunt's not-quite-plaintive "you have a lot of friends." Quietly done by the writing and by Draco Malfoy there.) Probably. Find another way, one that's more credible.

Last, and most definitely least: Hildy and Terry kiss. Why? Why. Give me one reason that had to happen, besides "because Taye Diggs is el scorcho and Robertson insisted on including that in her contract," which: that's damn fine negotiating, lady. But seriously: why? When I have to point you to aughts-era SVU as a cop-show example of how to partner a het man and woman without it getting weird -- and to more recent SVU as a warning on what NOT to do in that regard -- I'm sorry to tell you that you're doing it wrong. Yes, Hildy is having issues with the dating pool on OKCop-id. Yes, Terry is lonely after his wife's passing. They've done a good job weaving the former into the larger story and a who-cares job with the latter (and I might take it more seriously if they hadn't had his SIL drop her robe on him a few weeks ago, like that would make it compelling instead of superfluous AND weird), but just because these people are attractive and seeking doesn't mean they must then seek and attract each other, and don't give me that "economy of characters" shit; this isn't a nighttime soap. I don't need to know about their personal lives, particularly; I didn't want to find out the captain is boning the DA at the end of last week either, because it has nothing to do with anything.

Again, Robertson did a good job with it; that bit by the door, where she's tempted to shut it before he can leave and keep making out with him, felt real. But it's in the service of a situation that's false, and everything on this list smacks of old-school, traditional-network, "we need a romantic obstacle," "let me consult my tattoo of the full text of Adventures in the Screen Trade" thinking about what audiences want, and it's frustrating that a show that's so smart about some things is so behind the times about others.

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