I feel like I should start this review with an apology to the sponsor, Yair Rosenberg, because he was one of the very first to donate to my GoFundMe page and request a review, and yet I pushed it off until literally the next year. (Full disclosure: Yair is my brother so I can get away with stuff like that. Also, you should follow him on Twitter; I hear he’s funny sometimes. And he has a slight jewfro, which is always a plus.)
So, Murder One. Yair discovered this on Hulu (where it still currently resides, lurking) when I was in high school, and recommended it to me then. I in fact did watch several episodes and enjoyed them, but then somehow never followed through on the rest, and eventually I remembered almost nothing about it except my impression that there was an impressive lack of eye candy, which to me meant that it was clearly a really serious show with serious capital-A Acting, because the only people who can get away with not being eye candy on TV or in movies are capital-A Actors, like, I dunno, the guys in this show. (And comedians.)
Legit, that’s all I remembered. That and Stanley Tucci being in it. And Dylan Baker, better known to my brain as “that guy from other stuff.”
And upon rewatching, it turns out my recollection was kind of wrong? About the lack of eye candy, I mean. True, most of it is female — Kate Harper from The West Wing! Patricia Clarkson and her glorious hair! The older sister model! Other female defense attorney whose name I can’t remember! — but there is also that cute male defense attorney in the opening shot (clearly placed there strategically to keep shallow viewers like me from changing the channel in anticipation that he’ll be onscreen more) and now that I am older and wiser, I better appreciate Stanley Tucci as the attractive male specimen that he is, even with the balding hairstyle they let him have here.
I am also older and wiser in that I now have a much greater appreciation of why this is such a fantastic show, or at least a fantastic start to one. Because while I remember liking it the first time I watched it, I almost definitely did not evaluate it in the same terms that I did when I watched it earlier this week, and didn’t necessarily grasp what makes it so remarkable to present-day me.
And that boils down to: This is a pilot episode without a villain.
I have a weakness for fiction like that. A lot of my fiction doesn’t have villains, just people coming at life from different angles and making choices that are reasonable to them and clashing with each other because that is just the human condition. I just find it so much more compelling than your typical good vs. evil smackdown fights.
I’m sure this show will eventually have a villain (someone has to be the murderer, right?) but as of this episode, every character is likeable and sympathetic in some way (with one possible exception, which I’ll get to). The major ones that we’ve seen clearly have flaws, but they seem to have good sides too, and you understand them and you want to trust them, which is of course a great thing to have in a whodunit, which is, I presume, what this show will unfold into.
For instance, we have:
The main lawyer, Teddy — (Eye candy rating: 4ish out of 10) He has the unenviable, sometimes unscrupulous job of defending people who are varying degrees of guilty. And he does it really well, getting his clients off the hook even if they really did commit the crime they’re accused of *cough* Neil Avedon *cough* and probably don’t deserve to get off so easy. But he does have principles! The opening couple of acts reveal them to us — he has a line, a breaking point at which he will drop a client, and it’s pretty satisfying to see. He also has a wife and a daughter, and we see how gentle and caring he is with them. And of course, there’s this marvelous monologue he gives to a heckler in the bar, which is clearly the moral core of the show:
“Do you think anyone in this bar believes you’ve got a full head of hair? We all know that’s a comb-over. But till you get so obnoxious you forfeit your right to civil treatment, no one here points it out. Think of the trial system like that. We know accused people aren’t always innocent. Maybe not even usually innocent. And even though we know that, we treat people like they’re innocent till they’ve had their shot in court. It makes us better people, it civilizes us to treat them that way. Civility is important. That’s why no one in here called you a self-deceiving fool till you opened your drunken mouth.”
The main detective, Polson — (Eye candy rating: 6/10, mostly for those baby blue eyes) This is a role that probably could have been done a lot more villainously had Dylan Baker chosen to play it that way. He could easily have decided to play Polson much more antagonistically with his tone and body language, and I’m glad he didn’t. He’s just a guy doing his job; he’s not trying to be hugely judgmental or frame an innocent person, but he has leads that he needs to follow up on and uncomfortable questions he needs to ask, and clearly has some hunches that he’s following. He makes a couple of smug remarks to Teddy about how he’s sure the suspect is involved “up to his hips” (which later proves to be true), but aside from that, he doesn’t seem to relish the unpleasantness of this case and what it’s doing to the people involved, so I like the guy.
The prime suspect, Stanley Tucci — (Eye candy rating: 8/10) You want to believe this guy didn’t do it. You really, really want to. Tucci just does such a great job seeming so sincere and upset, that even though you know he’s committed serial infidelity, and that he’s constantly withholding information from Teddy throughout the episode, you really really want to believe that he would never have killed anybody, much less a 15-year-old girl who viewed him a surrogate father figure. You want to believe he has his reasons for withholding whatever he’s withholding. You want to trust him. I REALLY HOPE HE DIDN’T DO IT, OKAY.
The victim’s sister — (Eye candy rating: 9/10) This is another instance of a character who we know has done things that are objectively objectionable — she’s having an affair with Tucci’s character, a married man — but since we see how much she cared about her sister when she breaks down at the photo identification, and given that we know she essentially had to raise her sister (perhaps resorting to prostitution at one point) because their parents are not in the picture, her character remains very sympathetic.
The suspect’s wife — (Eye candy rating: 7/10 because I love short hair) She only gets one brief scene in this episode and I don’t know if we’ll see her much later, but she had one very telling choice to make: whether or not to appear beside Teddy at the press briefing he’s holding in defense of her husband, Stanley Tucci. He’s not asking her to speak, just to be present and visible to imply support for her husband. She’s clearly very upset, because she knows her husband was having an affair with the victim’s older sister and that this will likely be public knowledge soon, and she appears to be on the fence about whether to show up at the briefing or not. Teddy pleads his case, and we see that she understands that not showing her support at this juncture will make Stanley Tucci look guilty, not just of infidelity, but of the girl’s murder, and as upset as she is, she doesn’t think he’s a murderer, and has the heart not to sabotage his case, even though it’s difficult for her to play the dutiful wife. I thought that was a very interesting character note, and I hope we see more of her.
The aforementioned one possible exception to this panoply of sympathetic characters is
Neil Avedon — (Eye candy rating: 8/10 for looks, 1/10 for personality) He is clearly a douchepants. And obviously not very trustworthy, judging from that scene where we see him pull out the puppy-dog face when we know he is anything but remorseful for the stunt he pulled (killing a swan, I think?). But the show thus far is painting him as douchey, not as evil. Mostly harmless, in the words of Ford Prefect. But is that a misdirect? Could that swan murder be foreshadowing a human murder? Could be! I HOPE IT’S HIM, GUYS.
There are also a bunch of minor characters like the other attorneys on Teddy’s team, and the subplot involving them vying to be second chair on the case does a good job establishing their personalities. And again, none of them do anything underhanded or vicious or anything like that. They behave passionately but professionally. These are likeable people, and I like that.
All in all, I think this was a great pilot. It’s very rare for a show to be able to introduce a complicated storyline AND a full cast of characters and get them all established this clearly, this quickly. I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of this.