'Til Death Do Us Part



10-11 p.m., Monday, March 19
Court TV

OK, I think I get it: " 'Til Death Do Us Part" is on Court TV because the stories it tells about married couples whose unions end in murder are purportedly fact-based. Sort of. As a disclaimer in a press announcement notes, "The stories in the series are based on real court cases, but all names and locations are fictional. Characters and events have been invented or combined for dramatic purposes."

Let me see if I can translate this into English: The stories have a tiny kernel of truth but essentially are completely manufactured. Gotcha. Oh, and we never see the inside of a courtroom, either. Methinks this is a bit far afield for a network whose name implies some sort of judicial due process. It would be like Food Network doing a docudrama on bulimia. That aside, the series is self-consciously camp and broad -- complete with John Waters' preening take on Alfred Hitchcock -- in a way that rings utterly contrived.

Yes, Waters appears in the opening and at the conclusion to deliver wry, measured commentary that evokes his disdain for the matrimonial institution. He also will chime in occasionally with a smug observation in the middle of the action. It's fun, yet generally wasted. The whole idea seems to be that because this half-hour anthology is Court TV's first original scripted effort, it needs to be a little offbeat to justify its existence here. Instead, all Waters is really able to do in his role as the Groom Reaper is prove himself an annoying afterthought, unlike Hitchcock and Rod Serling before him. Those men were legends who made certain they were unobtrusive in "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Twilight Zone." By contrast, narrator Waters is just kind of a dweeb.

Not that "Death" supplies much in the way of true originality, even apart from the B-movie king's presence. As a 13-part series, it stands to be very much an exercise in repetition. I mean, if you've seen one spousal killing, you've seen 'em all.

The show opens with a pair of half-hour installments centering on romantic bliss gone terribly wrong. In the first, a rich older doctor (Allan Royal) makes the mistake of marrying a hot young babe (Melanie Merkosky) with whom he has nothing in common. Of course, the passion fades into contempt quickly enough, blackmail and murder follow ... and then irony gets the perp in the end. Penned by Scott Nimerfro and directed by Miles Dale, it's well-constructed but largely predictable.

The second installment, written by Ken Hanes, is more jarring and over the top, involving a funeral director (Peter Oldring) and the fallout that happens when his "plus-size" wife (Olivia Jones) decides to get slim and obsesses on self-improvement. The inevitable murder is actually wrenching and disturbing, coming somewhat out of nowhere. And it's a little bit silly that this woman is considered even mildly hefty. She can't weigh more than 125 and is normal sized. She actually looks fairly svelte when she's supposed to be zaftig. Perhaps anything short of anorexia is now considered large. This episode also concludes as we know it will, with the unavoidable "gotcha" moment.

It isn't that "Death" is terrible. It's just too broad to be taken seriously, as Waters' cheeky interludes underscore. And without genuine suspense, the drama ultimately falls prey to its own impish mind-set.

Court TV
Blueprint Entertainment and Court TV
Executive producers: Ken Hanes, John Marayniss, Ira Pincus, Jeff Lieberman
Creator: Jeff Lieberman
Producers: Suzanne Berger, Kevin Lafferty
Teleplay: Scott Nimerfro, Ken Hanes
Directors: Miles Dale, Larry McLean
Director of photography: Yuri Yakubiw
Production designer: Bill Layton
Costume designer: Jenifur Jarvis
Editors: Michael Todd, Ben Wilkinson
Composer: Jack Lenz. Casting: Stephanie Gorin
The Groom Reaper: John Waters
Gerald Clark: Allan Royal
Tara: Melanie Merkosky
Frank Hunter: Dan Lett
Ronald Collins: Peter Oldring
Bonnie Collins: Olivia Jones
Slade: Graham Abbey
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