‘Body of Proof’

 Claire Folger/ABC

It’s not too difficult to see why everybody wants to create a star vehicle for Dana Delany. She’s had crazy screen presence since most people met her on China Beach. And if anything, it has only grown more intense as she’s aged.

That’s why such shows as Pasadena (2001) and Presidio Med (2002) were looking to tap into her charms. They didn’t work out, and so followed a string of cameos and TV movies and finally the too-perfect casting on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. But she could eat that suburban street for lunch.

Which might be why she tears into the starring role on ABC’s Body of Proof with abandon. This series seems absolutely catered to her — all the way up to the title. Delany turned 55 in March and is clearly still getting it done in the sexy department. She storms into Proof with that sexuality not only in high gear (in one of the opening shots, the camera lingers on her legs as she gets out of the car) but also supported by a combination of icy and sassy that sets up an almost-mythical character.

Body of proof, mind of steel. It’s like her new series is a music video — flowing hair, flirty winks, boots that were made for walking, serious costume changes — all of which ends with her saying, “How ya like me now?”

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. Because Proof would not be much of a show without her. The premise is fairly simple: Megan Hunt (Delany) was once a star neurosurgeon who put in long, life-saving hours to be the best, at the unfortunate expense of her family. Her husband divorces her and gets custody of their daughter because Megan never went to any of her daughter’s birthday parties or soccer games — something like that. Then one day, late for surgery, Megan runs a light, and her car gets T-boned by a truck. There’s damage to her hands. When she recovers, she falters in surgery, and a patient dies. If you’re counting, that’s lost husband, lost daughter, lost job.

Now Megan becomes perhaps the most overqualified medical examiner alive, but she finds a sort of redemption in the dead. Are you ready for this? Their bodies tell stories. And that’s the stuff neurosurgeon Megan didn’t really care about. Now she’s using her off-the-charts smarts looking for clues to crimes.

There are six other characters on Proof, but they exist mainly to flutter around Delany’s Megan, seeking the knowledge of her mind or suffering her brusque, know-it-all persona. The show reminds viewers that Megan has no friends, but it’s not hard to see why. And yet who needs friends when you’re as self-assured, smart and hot as Megan? So even though the show is no doubt set up for Megan to soften as she seeks redemption with her daughter; an openness with her closest workmate, Peter (Nicholas Bishop); perhaps a budding friendship with her boss, Kate (Jeri Ryan, speaking of lovely); and a newfound appreciation of people — via the dead — it might be just as interesting to see Delany never give an inch as Megan. Just put it in everybody’s face and walk on.

Because Proof is a TV show and not real life, Delany gets to outsmart two omnipresent detectives in Bud (John Carroll Lynch) and Samantha (Sonja Sohn), solving crimes in a way that would make Quincy proud. When she’s at her job, doctors ask her advice, a la House, on difficult diagnoses. She’s always right. And at the end of the pilot, she gets to prove how right she was to everybody, just like Angela Lansbury on Murder, She Wrote. The detectives and her assistant step aside as she walks up to a suspect’s house, tight skirt and killer boots prancing up the stone steps — a shot that says: “Stay here. This is my show and my body. Watch me work.” 

Proof doesn’t break any ground as a procedural and has more than enough hokey moments to make you look elsewhere. But as a case study in how and why star vehicles get made, this is textbook. Fans of Delany won’t want to miss it.

Airdate 10-11 p.m. Tuesday, March 29 (ABC)

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