Add “Deception’s” Vivian Bowers to the list of beautiful female characters best known for setting series in motion with the “Who killed … ?” modifier — joining “Twin Peaks'” Laura Palmer and “The Killing’s” Rosie Larsen — here as the flashbacks-only impetus for the new NBC skein. Trying to tap into the same audience as ABC’s “Revenge,” the show probably owes a greater debt to that network’s short-lived “Dirty Sexy Money.” And while the program benefits from a strong cast, there’s ample cause to question just how long something built on a premise that relies on such a flimsy foundation can maintain its bearings, or plausibly sustain its charade.
Said sleight-of-hand hinges on Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good), one of the world’s most beautiful cops (OK, not their description, but mine), who happens to have been best friends with Vivian in their youth. She’s been enlisted by her former partner and sometimes lover, FBI agent Will Moreno (Laz Alonso), to visit the family and try to uncover what happened, and it gives little away to say she finds an excuse to hang around permanently, thanks to Vivian’s dad (Victor Garber), even if her imperious mom (Katherine LaNasa) and some of her siblings aren’t necessarily onboard with the idea.
Created by Liz Heldens and directed by Peter Horton (a “Dirty Sexy” alum himself), the pilot and next two episodes do a decent job of slowly unspooling details about the murder as well as Joanna’s history with the Bowers family. There are also plenty of tabloid-style headlines, plucked from the likes of the Hiltons and Kennedys, and big-business machinations (including trials of a breakthrough cancer drug), to help plant seeds of doubt regarding who might be responsible.
The real trick, though, is for this sort of exercise to take on a life of its own beyond the plot that sets this soapy world turning, and thus far, “Deception” doesn’t quite rise to that guilty-pleasure level. For some, no doubt, simply taking in Good’s perfect features might be reward enough, but there’s still the little matter of how long the cops would devote to embedding her in this fashion, no matter how high-profile the victim. (The always-welcome John Larroquette does show up in the last episode previewed, though it’s unclear how deeply his character will be embroiled going forward.)
NBC will air the series in what’s become its reduced-expectations Monday lineup, with “The Biggest Loser” subbing in until the network can regain “The Voice.” In other words, even NBC probably isn’t anticipating miracles from the new tandem’s Tuesday-morning Nielsen weigh-ins, which is an advantage to maintaining its “Deception.”
Viewed charitably, the series isn’t bad as a sort-of “Dallas” knockoff, though it’s worth noting TNT’s rebooted “Dallas” covers similar territory in a more satisfying manner. In that respect, “Deception” offers a reminder that even coupling a murder mystery with lurid fascination regarding the lives of the rich and famous isn’t a surefire way of knocking ’em dead.