August 25, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Murder In the First”


In its second season, Stephen Bochco and Eric Lodal’s MURDER IN THE FIRST altered its format, only to find new ways to fail.  Season 1 had told a single convoluted story, a murder mystery loaded with so many red herrings and reversals that by the time it ended, it was impossible to care who had actually committed the crime.  It also gave a great deal of attention to the personal lives of San Francisco detectives Terry English (Taye Diggs) and Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson).  The ratings were indifferent, and clearly there were plenty of notes from TNT and studio executives afterward, because Season 2 returned with substantial tweaks.  This time there were a trio of stories, about the death penalty trial of a teen killer that followed a massacre aboard a school bus, a conspiracy of corrupt and murderous cops, and a black/Chinese gang war.  The strands were loosely linked–Terry and Hildy were witnesses at the trial, and it turned out that the BIg Bad corrupt cop had instigated the gang war–but they never cohered in a meaningful way.  Meanwhile, the revamped show had more interest in the romantic life of the teen killer’s lesbian lawyer (Laila Robins) than in Terry or Hildy’s.

The season finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Jonathan Abrahams and directed by Jesse Bochco, was fittingly unsatisfying.  In a perfunctory end to the legal story, the defendant received the death penalty, although his lawyer accurately assured him that this only meant the beginning of many years of appeals.  The corrupt Big Bad was revealed as a supporting character who hadn’t appeared on screen for several episodes.  The gang war story had an unintentionally comic conclusion, as somehow Sugar Cascade (Mo McRae), whom we’d last seen on the wrong end of his ambitious number two’s gun, managed without any explanation to escape to Tahiti, where he was joined on the beach by SFPD gang unit Sergeant Raffi Veracruz (Emmanuelle Chriqui) in a bikini.  A quarter of the episode was spent in a laborious interrogation room scene where the corrupt baddie–who’d already received a plea deal–was questioned in a hypothetical manner by Terry and Hildy, apparently so a season’s worth of exposition could be unloaded at once.  (James Cromwell, the lead lawyer from Season 1, made an unnecessary return to the show as the villain’s attorney.)  Another chunk of the hour was devoted to a completely unrelated murder solved in procedural fashion within the episode, which seemed to be there just so our heroes could put one win in their books.

The changes in Murder In the First didn’t help it, substituting three limping stories for one, and giving its talented stars less to do.  Bochco, who as much as anyone can claim to have invented the modern concept of TV drama with Hill Street Blues, seemed to be trying to assemble the apparatus of the darker, more serialized cop shows of today with thick gloves on his hands.  (It was a particular mistake to retain the courtroom aspect of the show in Season 2, where it felt scotch-taped onto the rest of the story.)   Despite all the changes, Murder‘s ratings remained low, although given the plight of TNT (and basic cable in general), it’s not necessarily a goner.  It will likely be placed in a bucket with Proof, the rebooted Legends and possibly the new Public Morals, and 1 or 2 of them will survive.  Perhaps its producers will come up with another plan for a new season that will convince the network it should get another chance.  After 2 seasons of underperformance, though, its prospects seem less than promising.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."