Women's Murder Club

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9-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12
ABC

"Women's Murder Club" is a new chick drama that guys also can get into -- sort of the flip side of that lame Irish Spring soap slogan ("Manly yes, but I like it too!").

In a fall primetime TV season that's shaping up as one of the least promising in recent memory for cultivating potential series schedule-stickers, this hour from 20th Century Fox TV that's based on the best-selling book series by James Patterson looks to have the best shot this side of ABC's "Private Practice" (the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff that's shown some traction despite being altogether mediocre).

By contrast, "WMC" -- that's what the hip people will no doubt soon be calling it -- sprints energetically from the gate carrying genuine qualitative heft: charismatic leads, snappy dialogue and an agreeable blend of lighthearted and dramatic.

The only real weakness in the premiere is the obvious strain to balance the personal lives of its lovely female protagonists with their all-encompassing focus in the workplace. It feels somewhat like a rush-job afterthought, tacked on and gratuitous. But hopefully the writers will get better at the human element as the season moves along.

While "Private Practice" is centered by an odd choice to carry an ensemble in the utterly ordinary Kate Walsh, "Murder Club" has the saucy and effortlessly charming Angie Harmon (late of "Law & Order") heading things up. She's San Francisco homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer, an unapologetic workaholic with a tough exterior and an interior that's far more sensitive than she'd like it to be. She's assisted by the other members of this unofficial "club": no-nonsense medical examiner Claire Washburn (Paula Newsome), spunky assistant D.A. Jill Bernhardt (Laura Harris) and discombobulated newspaper crime reporter Cindy Thomas (Aubrey Dollar). Thomas joins the group in the opener, which was not the pilot made available to critics during the summer. Instead, this episode dives right in without worrying so much about establishing the characters -- for both better and worse.

That premiere focuses on a controversial reporter for the fictitious San Francisco Register who early in the episode winds up dead in a fairly typical everybody-has-a-motive story line. All signs point to a wack job of a guy who had been stalking the victim for five years, but we're pretty sure that's too obvious. Penned by exec producers Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, the teleplay sets up a scenario that's far less about the crime and even its resolution than it is the interplay between the characters as they investigate, of course.

They all get to bond and demonstrate their feminine wiles, though let it be said that the women are notably not stereotypes. Even the daffy reporter has a photographic memory and a certain savoir-faire. And the chemistry, particularly between the eminently likable Harmon and the intense-but-vulnerable Harris, is palpable.

Where "Murder Club" needs improvement is in rising above the shopworn crutch of showing professional women with topsy-turvy personal lives because of all of that career dedication. (We actually see glimpses of promise in a brief interlude at the end that shows Newsome's character to be a happily married wife and mother.) It's also hard to swallow that Boxer's ex-husband would suddenly, almost inexplicably, become her boss, as he does in the series kickoff. Can you say "contrived tension," boys and girls?

Yet despite these quibbles, the show proves from the get-go to be smart, entertaining and possessed of an estrogen-infused "CSI"-sort of vibe. Its characters also are independent without being overly bitchy. This is not good news for NBC's already ratings-challenged "Friday Night Lights," which also airs Friday nights at 9. My money's on the ladies.

WOMEN'S MURDER CLUB
ABC
20th Century Fox Television
Credits:
Executive producers: Brett Ratner, James Patterson, Joe Simpson, R. Scott Gemmill, Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain
Co-executive producers: Rick Wallace, Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts
Producer: Ed Milkovich
Supervising producer: Matt Witten
Associate producer: Tony Palermo
Consulting producer: Barbara Hall
Teleplay: Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain
Director: Greg Yaitanes
Director of photography: John Fleckenstein
Production designer: Victoria Paul
Art director: Ken Watkins
Costume designer: Kelli Jones
Editor: Harry B. Miller
Music: Jay Ferguson
Casting: Megan Branman, Dylann Brander
Cast:
Lindsay Boxer: Angie Harmon
Claire Washburn: Paula Newsome
Jill Bernhardt: Laura Harris
Cindy Thomas: Aubrey Dollar
Warren Jacobi: Tyrees Allen
Tom Hogan: Rob Estes
Denise Kwon: Linda Park
Walton James: Nathan Baesel
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