Given CBS’ reliance on crime procedurals, the network has come perilously close to exhausting variations on serial killers and other reasons why our mothers warned, “Don’t talk to strangers.” In that respect, Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest Eye hour is customarily slick but actually finds a more intriguing target — crimes perpetrated by those near and dear to the victims. Although the title is less biting than original moniker “American Crime,” series represents a harder-edged version of former slot occupant “Judging Amy” that should nab a respectable audience, even against the toughest “Law & Order” in town and ABC’s relocated “Boston Legal.”
Fresh off her comedic turn in the short-lived “Committed,” Jennifer Finnigan is the latest in a line of hard-charging femme prosecutors, albeit with the same twist that has helped NBC’s “Medium” take root. That’s because when her character Annabeth Chase isn’t putting away bad guys, she’s juggling the strictures of being a working mom with a baby, creating little indignities like having to keep her breast milk in the public fridge.
Annabeth doesn’t receive much sympathy from her boss (John Carroll Lynch), who urges her, post-maternity leave, to “start thinking like a prosecutor again.” Ditto for her ambitious colleague Maureen (Kimberly Elise), who has reaped certain professional advantages from staying off the baby track.
Series creator Jim Leonard doesn’t go much for French pastry, as it were, in the nothing-fancy premiere, in which Annabeth begins prosecuting a mom who apparently set her house on fire with the kids inside, only to quickly shift to the husband, who had imprisoned the entire family. As such, there are kids in jeopardy — a manipulative staple of the genre — in slow-motion yet, just to pound the point home.
Still, there is some effort to soften the central character — a “Fry ’em all” pro-justice type who can go have a cry in the bathroom. And from a thematic standpoint, in the wake of the Scott Peterson, Mark Hacking and Susan Smith cases, the notion of crime suspects starting “close to home” does possess an element of realism that eludes those dramas where serial killers are as common as hot dog vendors.
Finnigan, meanwhile, is appealing enough to sell the requisite mix of attributes, and if CBS has demonstrated anything with its lineup of crime fighters, being heavy-handed isn’t necessarily detrimental to one’s commercial prospects.
In that respect, “Close to Home” lives up and down to its title — staying very close to what’s worked for CBS before. On the bright side, those who have grown afraid of the outside world will have less reason to fear the unlikely prospect of being victimized in a sadistic, arbitrary fashion. Now they can transfer that anxiety to perps with a higher degree of probability — their families, friends and neighbors.