Review: Murder In The First 1×1 (TNT)

Steve Bochco's back for a summer of cops

Murder In The First

In the US: Mondays, 10pm (ET/PT), TNT

TNT’s an odd network, a sort of in-between house on basic cable between regular old vanilla, commercial, network TV and the no-holds-barred, challenging world of premium cable. With no real identity of its own, it churns out shows that would largely sit very happily on any broadcast network were it not for the occasional swear word: Falling Skies, King & Maxwell, Perception, Memphis Beat, Dark Blue, Leverage, Saving Grace, Trust Me, Rizzoli & Isles, Franklin and Bash, The Closer, Major Crimes – the list goes on and assuming you hadn’t forgotten that pretty much all of those shows ever existed, you’d have been hard-pushed to remember they were on TNT and perhaps even cable. The network’s one truly good show was Southland… which it picked up from NBC then slashed its budget.

At most, you might think of TNT as ‘The Crime Channel’, because of the 13 shows listed above, 11 involve cops, lawyers and/or robbers, and the rest of the time, it’s broadcasting reruns of Law & Order. But you don’t. It’s just TNT. It’s just… there.

I don’t think it’s escaped TNT’s notice that it’s not very noticeable, either. It’s got an ambitious summer schedule of dramas lined up that includes spy thriller Legends, for example. But it’s starting us off gently with another crime drama, except to make it a bit more memorable, it’s gone once again to Steve Bochco, who previously gave the network Raising the Bar (make that 12 out of 14 shows).

Young people might not have heard of Steve Bochco (and let’s face it, they’re probably not going to be watching TNT, since it leans towards a much older demographic, anyway), but together with Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM Enterprises, he was pretty much responsible for launching the second wave of great American television that began in the 80s. He started it off with the innovative Hill Street Blues before giving us LA Law, Doogie Howser MD, Hooperman, NYPD Blue and (oh horror) Cop Rock, which I guess was innovative, too, given it was as the name suggests, a musical drama about cops:

Possibly Bochco’s greatest creative achievement, even if it wasn’t a ratings success, was the almost-theatrical Murder One. As with Hill Street Blues, Murder One was unusual for its time in having story arcs – a season-long high-profile criminal case in Murder One’s case. It was filled with a fantastic cast that included Patricia Clarkson, Mary McCormack and the magnificent Stanley Tucci and Daniel Benzali, who presided like a Renaissance Pope over his cadre of lawyers:

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that for his latest show, Murder In The First, Bochco has pitched at that older demographic who liked his previous shows. Giving Murder One a slight Law & Order twist, Murder In The First follows a criminal investigation by San Francisco police into two murders linked to a celebrity all the way through to the trial and (presumably) conviction of the killer. It also adds in a dash of Hill Street Blues, with its focus on the domestic lives and working relationships of the cops.

Starring Taye Diggs (Day Break), Kathleen Robertson (Boss), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Steven Weber (Studio 60), Nicole Ari Parker (The Deep End) and Draco Malfoy himself – Tom Felton from the Harry Potter movies – it’s not exactly what you’d call ground-breaking, but is probably going to be a passable piece of summer viewing. Well, better than everything else on TNT, anyway.

Here’s a trailer:

This summer, TNT is going to take an up-close and personal look at a complex homicide investigation in Murder in the First, a powerful scripted drama co-created by Emmy®-winner Steven Bochco and newcomer Eric Lodal. Murder in the First stars Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Kathleen Robertson (Boss). Also starring are Tom Felton (Harry Potter), Mimi Kirkland (Safe Haven), Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time), Lombardo Boyar (The Bernie Mac Show), Ian Anthony Dale (Hawaii Five-0), Bess Rous (What Just Happened), Nicole Ari Parker (Revolution), Currie Graham (Raising the Bar), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential) and Steven Weber (Dallas, Wings). Murder in the First is set to premiere Monday, June 9, at 10 p.m. (ET/PT), following the season three premiere of TNT’s hit crime drama Major Crimes.

Set in San Francisco, Murder in the First will follow a single case across an entire season. The series follows homicide detectives Terry English (Diggs) and Hildy Mulligan (Robertson) as they investigate two seemingly unrelated murders. The mystery deepens, however, when they find both murders have a common denominator in Silicon Valley wunderkind Erich Blunt (Felton).

Terry and Hildy’s fellow detectives in their squad include SFPD homicide inspector David Molk (Sbarge), a thoughtful philosopher-cop and frequent class clown, and his tough-as-nails partner inspector Edgar Navarro (Boyar). The ambitious and no-nonsense Lt. Jim Koto (Dale) serves as the squad’s supervisor.

Supporting Blunt in his endeavors are Bill Wilkerson (Weber), his long-time friend, driver and pilot, and Ivana West (Rous), the company’s brilliant chief technology officer. Blunt’s legal team includes David Hertzberg (Schiff), his gruff lawyer and trusted confidant, and Warren Daniels (Cromwell), a legendary criminal attorney brought in to assist when suspicion turns to Blunt. Facing them in the courtroom will be the remarkably brilliant District Attorney Jackie Perez (Parker) and pit-bull Chief Prosecutor Mario Siletti (Graham).

Murder in the First also takes viewers into Terry and Hildy’s home lives. Hildy is a single mom with an inquisitive daughter (Kirkland). Terry, meanwhile, is struggling to take care of his terminally ill wife, Emily, played by guest star Anne-Marie Johnson (JAG, In the Heat of the Night).

The 10-episode first season of Murder in the First is being produced by TNT Originals, with Bochco and Lodal serving as executive producers. TBS International is handling distribution to regions outside the United States and Canada.

Is it any good?
It’s moderately different and has all sorts of Bochco touches, but it’s ultimately pretty conventional and so far hasn’t done anything to lift it up over the usual sleepy summer fare.

The biggest innovation – if it can be called such – is that Bochco gives the show’s protagonists somewhat mundane lives. Robertson’s a single mother who’s worried about raising her kid and her online dating profile. There are discussions about diets, cleansing practices and who’s keeping what in the work fridge. The police supervisor (Ian Badge Dale) is an Asian guy, but not an angry Asian guy – he just sort of… supervises. It’s all so normal and more like real life.

Indeed, the most unconventional aspect of these domestic lives is that Diggs’ wife is dying of cancer, something that’s actually handled pretty sensitively. Even so, when he starts to beat up a suspect, the other cops are horrified and tell him not to come back to work until he can handle his emotional issues – while Badge Dale quietly just covers up the evidence. 24 this is not.

Although there’s not a huge sense of place, there are little San Francisco/Californian touches to the show. The cops are naturally all ‘inspectors’ rather than ‘detectives’, and Felton’s faux Silicon Valley company hits just the right spots in terms of management style and computing jargon. And when the show visits poorer parts of San Francisco, they do actually look poor, rather than just TV poor.

Nevertheless, this is still very much a TNT show and there’s a thick sheen of bland smeared all over it. The police barely register as having personalities, rather than plot moments, at all. Robertson is defined more as being sexy and tough than being good at her job. Felton’s CEO has all the stereotypical personality problems expected of both CEOs and computer programmers by anyone who’s watched The Social Network. And so far, most of the plot has involved an email.

Diggs is very good, Robertson is efficient, Felton surprisingly good as an American but not quite hard enough to be a hate-able villain. But Schiff is the closest the show has to a Stanley Tucci and he’s cruising on autopilot through the few scenes he has at the moment.

However, if you’re looking for something hugely challenging, this is probably both the wrong time of year and the wrong network. Instead, take Murder In The First for what it is: a reasonable, lazy summer show that’s an agreeable enough way to endure the heat with and doesn’t make you think too hard. Watch it with a couple of mojitos by your side and you won’t be disappointed.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.