All the king's horses, all the king's men, all the phony paintings and all the phony earrings can't make a credible story out of over-the-top defense attorney Melanie Darrow's first TV case. Delta Burke trots out Darrow's crudities, arch manners and stylized characterization from the Dean Hargrove-Joyce Burditt script as though they were by Noel Coward; making matters worse, her line readings are occasionally embarrassing. The vidpic's major problems are its scrambled plotting and Burke's outre perf. Director Gary Nelson works at making the lackluster teleplay sophisticated, but the action and the dialogue (Melanie tosses out a variation on a Mae West chestnut, "Is that a gun I see in your pocket, or are you just happy, etc.?") help do Burke in.

Plot setup has Brian Bloom limning police detective Lou Darrow, Melanie’s younger brother, apparently a pushover when it comes to his sister; Bloom does what he can.

Story at hand involves Melanie representing international financier Alex Kramer (Bruce Abbott), who’s accused of murdering his wealthy wife, Felicia (Laura Press). Other suspects involve Felicia’s four siblings and a few shady characters who add atmosphere but not much clarification.

Acting the alcoholic, Wendel Meldrum as Felicia’s sister Diane suggests a character out of Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” but doesn’t get enough script support to go anywhere with it. Bill MacDonald’s vicious Harper, who performs all sorts of badnesses, does well enough. Christopher Birt handles his role as Felicia’s right-hand man Dwight with dignity and depth.

Major aspect of the case is Felicia’s son David (Shawn Ashmore), who thinks Alex is innocent. David’s uncle has the youth locked away in a convenient sanitarium where he’s fed dope until Melanie, whispering to him, tells him to stop taking it. There you are. The woman knows no limits.

Nelson doesn’t bring much reality or humor to the thin telefare, and chances of Burke’s Melanie getting many more cases seem minimal.

Gayne Rescher’s customary sleek camerawork helps, and David Soloman’s editing is efficient. Production designer Harold Thrasher is surely resourceful, while Richard De Benedictus’ score does what it can.

Melanie Darrow

Wed. (20), 9-11 p.m., USA

Production

Filmed in Toronto by Power Pictures, Perseverance Inc., Dean Hargrove Prods. and Wilshire Courtyard Prods. Executive producers-writers, Dean Hargrove, Joyce Burditt; producers, Delta Burke, Julian Marks; director, Gary Nelson

Crew

camera, Gayne Rescher; editor, David Soloman; production designer, Harold Thrasher; art director, Mario Mercuri; sound, Chaim Gilad; music, Richard De Benedictus; casting, Dan Shaner.

Cast

Delta Burke, Brian Bloom, Christopher Birt, Jonathan Banks, Bruce Abbott, Shawn Ashmore, Wendel Meldrum, Bill MacDonald, Krista Bridges, Ralph Small, David Orth, David Sutcliffe, Laura Press, Johanna Black, Brad Borbridge, Steve Behal, Mif, Margueritte Pigott, June Crowley, Jennifer Irwin, R.D. Reid, Patrick Patterson, Lindsay Collins, Henry Chan, Raymond O'Neill, Vito Rezza, Kim Roberts, Jody Racicot, Diego Fuentes, Eric Murphy, Neil Foster, Peter Snider, Sean Gregory Sullivan, Jean Daigle, Billie Mae Richards, Mikka Dargel, Selina Martin, Christine Brubaker, Catherine Taylor-Williams, Laura Catalano, Hal Eisen.

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