In the US: Fridays, 9pm, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Universal. Will air in March
Watching Fox’s new legal drama, Proven Innocent, reminds me of how it’s possible to feel sorry for actors even when they’ve managed to bag the lead role in a TV series. Sure, they’re the star. But in this? Oh dear, I’m so sorry.
I’ve always quite liked Rachelle Lefevre and thought she’s deserved a better career than she’s had, ever since she was bumped from the US adaptation of Life on Mars in favour of Gretchen Mol in the reshoot. She joined Off The Map, the only Shondaland series to get canned after one season. She was Victoria in the first two Twilight movies but was replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard in the third movie, Eclipse, just as the role got meaty. It’s only Under The Dome that’s really given her any success and that was a prevaricating lump of daftness at the best of times.
Kelsey Grammer, on the other hand, is a fabulous comedic actor who had huge success with two long-running comedies: Cheers and Frasier. Unfortunately, all his comedy series since Frasier – Partners, Hank, Back To You – have been truly awful. Boss and The Last Tycoon both demonstrated that he’s an amazing dramatic actor, too, but those shows got cancelled fast.
And with Proven Innocent, all I can do is feel sorry for the both of them – as well as Vincent Kartheiser (Angel, Das Boot, Mad Men), Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead, The Americans, The X-Files) and Riley Smith (Frequency) – as they endure some really quite pitifully poor material as they head towards yet another inevitable cancellation.
In Proven Innocent, Lefevre plays a lawyer, who together with her brother (Smith), was convicted as a teenager of a crime she didn’t commit – the murder of one of her friends. After spending the best part of a decade in prison, where she studies law, she’s exonerated and released. Graduating from Yale, she decides to dedicate her life to exonerating others wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. And to destroying the career of the prosecutor who sent her to jail – Grammer.
She’d also quite like to know who really did commit the crime for which she was imprisoned, since there’s still a large number of people (including Grammer) who think she really did do the deed. Could it even be Smith?
But this is all decidedly limp stuff, elevated almost exclusively by a cast doing their hardest work to bail the water out of this rapidly flooding, hole-riddled ship. There is, at best, a passing acquaintanceship with the law. Ignore for a minute everything that goes on in the courtroom between Grammer and Lefevre, all of which would probably get them struck off within a nanosecond. Also ignore the perilously low standards of evidence required of both sides.
But consider daftness such as Smith being assaulted with a baseball bat one morning and punching the man who attacked him. Can you imagine a private criminal prosecution not merely being taken out against him that same day but getting into a courtroom by the afternoon? Smith’s also unlucky enough to get fired from his job teaching kids soccer, but he’s fired mid-match in the middle of the field in front of numerous witnesses. Can you imagine the HR problems?
And that’s all before we look at the first episode’s case, in which a woman is exonerated of murdering her child when it’s revealed (checks notes in disbelief before progressing slowly and painfully to spell it out) she confessed because she had carbon monoxide poisoning from the fire, the jury sent her to prison because “she had gothy make-up” that turned out to be soot from the fire, and because her Spanish-speaking husband’s testimony was mistranslated by an evil translator who felt she should go to jail, said translator being marched into the courtroom from jail purely so he can shout out “The end justifies the means!”
Oh, and I forgot to mention that Kartheiser (checks notes again), yes, Kartheiser is Lefevre’s street-smart investigator, prepared to go undercover by himself in fire stations and drug-dealing neighbourhoods to deliver badly dubbed lines of Spanish dialogue*. And that half the show’s action is taken up with Lefevre and the rest of the law firm’s staff doing the oh so daftly sexy right now podcasts. Or that there’s a sexy journalist interested in Lefevre… but only for the story!
Let’s enter a few exhibits in mitigation. Lefevre charms and there’s the occasional hint in the vein of Life that her character is prepared to put her prison experiences to good use in real-life by shanking people who get in her way. Grammer is majestic and his political aspirations are intriguing. The out-of-court manoeuvring between him and Lefevre has just a hint of the Suits to it, too. There’s also a nice line in mean girls dialogue going around.
It’s just that it’s so brain-warpingly distant from reality and the law as we know it, it feels like we’ve accidentally overdosed on the spice melange and folded space to Arrakis. I’ve seen seven year olds come up with more convincing defence arguments.
I do hope that Lefevre gets to shank someone – whoever it is holding her career back and casting her in shows like this. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening.
* To be fair, he’s married to the Spanish-speaking Alexis Biedel, so it’s entirely possible he does speak Spanish. However, it’s noticeable that all his lines are dubbed and that his mouth is always out of shot whenever he says anything Spanish. It reminds me of the fight scenes in Instinct