Nuance is often the first casualty of adaptation, which feels like the case in Scott Turow’s latest book-turned-miniseries — a watchable noirish crime yarn that’s more so-so soap opera than thoughtful rumination on the justice system. Seemingly patterned in part after “L.A. Confidential” — down to a politically conscious prosecutor being advised to allow a case that “made” her to stay “made” — this two-parter is probably smart counterprogramming for the waning days of sweeps, most likely to make hay among the grayer pastures of the CBS audience.
Turow doesn’t exactly travel in that heady realm occupied by John Grisham, but he now has a pair a miniseries (the other being “Burden of Proof”) and the feature “Presumed Innocent” on his resume. By those standards, this is a passable thriller, with director Mike Robe cobbling together enough suspense and moody atmosphere to keep the payoff from being entirely predictable.
Although ostensibly driven by efforts to overturn a death-row conviction, “Reversible Errors” becomes more about two key relationships set against those 7-year-old events. First, there’s the hard-bitten cop (Tom Selleck) who broke the case and the prosecutor (Monica Potter) who tried it, launching her career. Former lovers, they find themselves tossed together once it appears they might have convicted the wrong man, yielding lots of longing glances.
On the flip side are the now-disgraced judge who oversaw the trial and the court-appointed lawyer brought in to handle the convict’s plea, played by real-life husband-and-wife tandem William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman.
Arthur Raven (Macy) is an inward sort, who suddenly starts to believe his addled client, Rommy (Glenn Plummer), just might be innocent, after a dying man (the always-reliable James Rebhorn) claims credit for the triple-homicide.
Untangling the truth produces its share of twists and turns, but that takes a back seat to the melodrama. Forced to re-investigate the case, Potter and Selleck — who, shades of “Friends,” still makes a pretty convincing romantic lead opposite another much-younger leading lady — find time to reminisce about how great their sexual escapades were (briefly shown at the outset, accompanied by a “Body Heat”-like score).
Problem is, Muriel (Potter) is a candidate for higher office now with a politically connected husband, adding a level of intrigue to this unexpected threat to her marital stability and professional aspirations. And while Larry (Selleck) sympathizes, well, you know, he’s just a big marshmallow on the inside who’s never had it that good again.
By contrast, as stripped down in Alan Sharp’s script, there’s relatively little groundwork to establish Arthur’s infatuation with the judge or, for that matter, her eventual reciprocation. Fortunately, Macy and Huffman are accomplished enough performers to forge some semblance of an awkward connection, as wispy as that might be.
Ultimately, this all feels terribly familiar, which hasn’t stopped many crime tales from nabbing an audience of late — especially on CBS, which could easily be re-christened the Crime & Bruckheimer System. In fact, just think of this as an extended version of Sunday’s lead-in “Cold Case” — which offers its own wrongly convicted man having his case reopened — on a network whose lineup regularly demonstrates that crime pays.