Preview: Proof 1×1 (US: TNT)

Will there be life after speedy cancellation?

Jennifer Beals in TNT's Proof

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, TNT. Starts June 16

The procedural is killing mainstream US TV. It really is. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with a procedural, whether it’s cops, doctors, firefighters or soldiers. As a format, the procedural is versatile since if you’re going to produce 13-24 episodes of something that doesn’t necessarily have a linking narrative, you’re going to want to have a reason for things to happen – and if your characters’ job is to go and find things, that really does help.

Trouble is when everything has to be crowbarred into that format, even when there’s really no good reason for it. You can just about forgive something like Stitchers – who else would bother trying to insert themselves into dead people’s fading consciousnesses every week apart from a shadowy government agency? Once would be enough for most people and you’d probably pick people who hadn’t died traumatically, which would be dramatically dull, of course.

But now we have the ludicrous Proof on TNT, a network that I thought was trying to get away from the fact that 90% of its content is procedural but here are showing that like some teenager after a break-up, they can’t quite get over their first love.

Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Chicago Code) is a powerful, high flying surgeon who is a sceptical woman of science. However, following the death of her teenage son, her family isn’t quite so happy, with Beals and husband David Sutcliffe (Cracked) getting divorced and her teenager daughter being none too happy with her either.

Then one day, tech billionaire Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Weeds) bribes hospital administrator Joe Morton (Terminator 2, Grace and Frankie) into ordering Beals to meet him. Modine is dying and hasn’t long to live, but being the prepared type, he wants to know exactly what’s going to happen to him afterwards. So he offers to give Beals his entire fortune on the event of his death – provided she can bring him proof of what happens, be that ascent to Heaven, everlasting blackness or partying in Valhalla until Ragnarok. And rather than investigate plausible cases in a long-drawn out research project, she’s going to look at a different phenomenon every week.

Yes, that’s right, we have the first ever ‘investigate the afterlife’ procedural. That’s… plausible.

Jennifer Beals plays Dr. Carolyn Tyler, who has suffered the recent, devastating loss of her teenage son, the breakup of her marriage and a growing estrangement from her daughter. Carolyn is persuaded by Ivan Turing (Matthew Modine), a cancer-stricken tech inventor and billionaire to investigate cases of reincarnation, near-death experiences, hauntings and other phenomena, all of it in the search for evidence that death is not the end.

Is it any good?
Well, it’s no X-Files or Kolchak: The Night Stalker. It’s not even a Miracles, Night Stalker, Project UFO or a Burning Zone. It’s not even – shudders – Torchwood. It’s just plain inept.

You could just about buy the idea of investigations of the after-life with the right format. But the idea that to do this, a tech billionaire is going to finance an abrasive surgeon with no research or investigation experience, simply because he met her once and she seemed a bit sceptical, is pushing things to say the least. Add on the fact that Beals’ attempts to provide conclusive, irrefutable, scientifically valid proof of what happens after death involve turning up and chatting to people, without even a piece of scientific equipment to her name to even record any of it, and we’ve gone into brain freefall.

All the same, we could perhaps suspend our disbelief if there was something else about the show that was even remotely enjoyable. Except we can’t. Beals is knowingly abrasive and unpleasant to everyone. She has the help in her investigations of a Kenyan resident at her hospital (Edi Gathegi from House), to whom she’s obnoxiously racist – questioning whether “he’s still learning English” when she first meets him in the OR and later agreeing with a colleague that Gathegi and his entire country are a bit backward and maybe the food they’d had could ‘feed a family of four in his country’. She doesn’t do this with a knowing, House-ian wink, either. She’s just plain racist.

Gathegi is at least interesting, but Modine is just plain charisma-less as the tech billionaire, while Morton gets the Lisa Cuddy job to do but without any charm. There’s an English psychic (The Tudors/Smallville’s Callum Blue) hanging around spouting inanities, too, and Beals’ family are just plain annoying.

Dialogue is entirely atrocious and predictable, with Beals having to mouth off at length while the audience patiently looks at its watches for whomever she’s talking to to wade in at the end and correct whatever mistake she’s obviously made. Most other dialogue seems to be about explaining just how freaking awesome she is with her volunteering for Doctors Without Borders, her charity work, her achievements, yadda, yadda, yadda, or about piling on the guilt about her dead son.

Then there’s the investigations themselves. As Beals herself points out, we’ve been around for thousands of years and no one’s found conclusive proof of even ghosts, yet alone life after death. So is she going to find it? Of course, if she finds genuine conclusive proof that the world can’t refute, the show has to end, unless there’s a massive and interesting change to the format; more likely, each week, we’re going to just have her talking to people about their near-death experiences and how they could see her wearing trainers when they were disembodied, after which Beals will quite rightly point out this is proof of precisely bugger all.

To be fair, Beals is wanting to investigate poltergeists, et al, too, not just little children’s rather poor drawings of dead grandparents and if the show switches from the PG milieu of this first episode to an R rating, that could potentially be a far more interesting show, too. But I don’t see Tobe Hooper climbing on board at the moment.

That means as this is a procedural, all we’re going to get is a season of waffly twaddle about journeys and glowing lights, interspersed with exasperating writing and casual racism. Count me out.


  • 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.

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