June 17, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Murder In the First”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on MURDER IN THE FIRST:  San Francisco homicide detectives Terry English (Taye Diggs) and Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson) are investigating two crimes connected to arrogant high-tech tycoon Erich Blunt (Tom Felton), the violent deaths of both his biological father and his former employee and lover.  Meanwhile, English and Mullitan try to navigate their personal lives:  she’s a divorced mom just re-entering the dating pool, and he was recently widowed.

Episode 2:  The second hour of Murder In the First was as professionally executed and as lacking in originality as the first.  Written, like the pilot, by series co-creator Eric Lodal (from a story written with his living legend co-creator Steven Bochco), it continued the hunt for the killer(s), and any connection, beyond the obvious, between the two murders.  Although there are a fair number of presumed red herrings–a junkie who could have killed Blunt’s addict father, the ex-husband of Blunt’s lover, the pilot of Blunt’s private plane, who’s been suspiciously cast with the high-level Steven Weber–so far Murder makes little attempt to hide that it’s only interested in Blunt himself.  The trouble is that everything about the situation feels second-hand, from the Zuckerberg-ish Blunt to the scene where he ignores the advice of his lawyer (Richard Schiff) to take the investigation seriously and hire criminal defense shark (James Cromwell), to the ploy whereby English and Mulligan try to get Blunt to sip some water in the police station so they can check the bottle for DNA (the dead woman was pregnant and had semen in her system, so the cops are seeking a match to either source).  The only brief moment in the episode where things threatened to become interesting was near the end, where it appeared that although Mulligan had clearly only agreed to have dinner with Blunt to try again for his DNA, she might actually be turned on by him–but no, it was just part of her act.

The hour had a few bright spots.  Whether or not her character was faking it, there’s an enjoyably nasty shared glimmer between Robertson and Felton as actors that makes their scenes together pack a bit of punch, and on a meta level, it was fun to watch director Jesse Bochco (yes, his son) shoot chase and interrogation scenes with the kind of handheld camerawork and distorted lenses that the elder Bochco brought to TV in the first place–and Steven Bochco himself must marvel that the (moderate) four-letter words and brief partial nudity that got him into such trouble in NYPD Blue days are merely taken for granted on basic cable.  Schiff and Cromwell are complete pros, and a pleasure to watch.  (The storyline requires Diggs to be little other than grim at the moment, but hopefully that will change as time passes in the narrative.)  Even if the writing is familiar, it’s briskly paced and easy enough to watch.

Still, one can’t really argue with the viewers who gave Murder a mediocre 0.6 rating for its premiere, and it’s hard to see why that number should go up.  Bochco’s time as a revolutionary is in the past–these days, he’s a member of the TV bourgeoisie.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  A Decent Summer Time-Filler, But No More

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."