'Rosewood': TV Review

Trying this hard to prove you aren't formulaic probably means you are

In this new Fox series, Morris Chestnut plays a private pathologist doing generic things in Miami.

Fox's new Wednesday procedural Rosewood has a problem.

That's generous. Rosewood has a number of problems, but the primary difficulty is one of convincing viewers how the show is different from the seemingly endless number of mixed-gender crime-solving procedurals audiences have enjoyed or suffered through in recent years.

Creator Todd Harthan has narrowed the points of differentiation down to two and they're mentioned repeatedly throughout the pilot. It's an annoying and largely ineffective device, because the pilot for Rosewood fails to set itself apart from the herd at all, but it's an effective distraction from a murder investigation that left no impression despite multiple viewings of the pilot. Mediocrity distracting from mediocrity is not a good recipe for success.

The first point of differentiation: Morris Chestnut's Dr. Beaumont Rosewood Jr. — Rosie to his friends — is Miami's leading private pathologist. Private. Private pathologist. I repeat this because every cop show has a pathologist and pathologists have been the focus of several shows, but Rosie is a private pathologist. Private. This means he doesn't work for Miami's police department and has to hustle for business, showing up at crime scenes, pontificating and pointing at his helpful billboards that are all around the city. He takes all major credit cards, he reminds us and other characters on multiple occasions, because normal TV pathologists don't have to worry about how they're going to get paid. Private.

Because Rosie always needs work, he has to build relationships, starting with Jaina Lee Ortiz's Annalise Villa, the new detective in town. Det. Villa arrives from New York City, so she doesn't know that Rosie is a private pathologist and so he gets to tell her things like, he's "considered by some to be the Beethoven of private pathologists" and that he's got "arguably the most sophisticated pathology compound this side of the Pecos."

If you're generous, you'll think that Rosie's self-aggrandizement stems from the need to stir up business. If you're not, you'll think it's obnoxious. Similarly, if you're generous, you'll think that Rosie's constant references to wanting to work with Villa as his partner stem from his desire to get close to her and to spark a future [inevitably romantic] relationship. If you're not, you'll think Rosie is a huckster and that his attempts to form connections are all about financial gain. If you take either of the two former views, you'll probably just find Chestnut inherently charming and nothing that Rosie could possible do as a character will make any difference at all. If you take either of the two latter views, you'll never watch Rosewood again anyway.

Back to the second point of differentiation: Rosie is going to die. Well, we're all going to die, but he has a slew of medical issues, introduced in the opening scene in which he runs by the bay topless and you'll see, if you aren't distracted by Chestnut's abs, that Rosie has a scar across his chest. Yes, Rosie has a hole in his heart that can only be filled by solving crimes, or at least regulated by therapeutic injections. Det. Villa tells Rosie several times he's obsessed with death, to which he finally replies, "My obsession is with every breath I take," a character trait that is mentioned, but not necessarily exhibited by anything Chestnut is playing. Rosie is a ticking time bomb of death, but the prognosis he gives us in the pilot is both soon, but still hilariously far beyond the expected lifespan for Rosewood.

Taking these differentiations out of the equation, Rosewood is just another procedural about a guy who squints hard at things and then uses his deductive reasoning in creepy stalker ways. Not trusting viewers to have Beaumont Rosewood's powers of observation, Rosewood lazily telegraphs his brain waves with insert shots. This is the kind of show where, before Rosie meets Villa, she's working out and left her nicotine gum and wedding bands carefully arranged on a white towel at the door so that he'll have something to work with. As with Rosie's billboards, Rosewood makes sure its clues are displayed in plain site.

Because Rosie's interest in Det. Villa is one of financial necessity on his part, their chemistry never feels real and it's just two people bantering about their bantering. "I'm the ying, you're the yang!" he declares. She replies, "You're oil, I'm water." And that's as good as it gets.

The other characterizations are similarly thin and most viewers will never have to know how much better the current pilot is than the original pilot when it comes to the other people in Rosie's orbit. As his sister, a part of his lab team, Gabrielle Dennis has been given two new scenes that at least try to soften Rosie and suggest that his smugness is just an act, even if we're denied any alternative traits. And Lorraine Toussaint, as Rosie's mom, remains one of those actors who can give stock characters an immediate pulse, even if the grafting of her character onto the episode's main mystery is feeble.

The other major character is supposed to be the previously mentioned pathology compound, which features all of the toys Rosie can afford because he's a private pathologist. Private. As is also the case on Fox's Minority Report, Rosie's gadgets suffer from years of other shows, including Fox's own Bones, ginning up fantastical gizmos. Rosie is cocky about everything, but he's especially cocky about his myriad knickknacks so it actually hurts the character that his stuff elicits barely a shrug.

Incompatible with its Wednesday partner Empire in tone, style and narrative structure, Rosewood functions best as a Morris Chestnut vehicle, if you crave such a thing. If you don't, the upside to Rosewood doesn't appear to be much higher than a generic procedural and the pilot doesn't even approach that level. Other pilots this fall are worse, but few are more middling.