Marking WE’s first scripted drama, “The Divide” appears to harbor aspirations to be more than just another cop/crime show, but its two-hour premiere stumbles along the way. Created by Richard LaGravenese and actor/director Tony Goldwyn, the show seeks to delve into race through the prism of long-solved but controversial murders. Yet there’s a corner-cutting quality to the series — beginning with the casting — that makes this feel like a decidedly off-Broadway effort. So while WE has demonstrated it’s willing to order drama as the network rebrands itself, the channel faces more work to prove it can be a significant player in this crowded field.
There’s no nice way to say the leads simply aren’t especially compelling, which might help better sell this otherwise familiar tale that hinges on a central mystery built around a death-penalty case.
Marin Ireland plays Christine Rosa, an ambitious law student working for something called the Innocence Initiative, which endeavors to help those who the criminal-justice system has mistreated. In her eagerness, she steps out of bounds, in the eyes of her boss (Paul Schneider), by seeking to help a white inmate, Jared Bankowski (Chris Bauer), due to be executed in a few weeks for the murder of a well-to-do African-American family 12 years earlier, even though he hasn’t sought help or made any protestations regarding his innocence.
Ultimately, it all plays like the old adventures of new Christine. Her investigation naturally threatens entrenched interests, including a prosecutor (Damon Gupton) who burnished his reputation by winning a conviction in the case, which at the time had threatened to divide the city. Christine, however, is the kind of hard-driving idealist (with a backstory to help explain why) who won’t let go, which raises the specter of reopening old wounds, endangering careers and fraying relationships.
In the right hands, this might all be more interesting. But the two pivotal roles don’t convey much pop, hinting at the show’s limitations, and being partly responsible for them. The same goes for the central mystery — if Bankowski and the other fellow convicted didn’t commit the murders, who did? — which reflects the kind of story Investigation Discovery regularly dispenses in an hour or less.
As the writer of such films as “The Bridges of Madison County,” LaGravenese does provide his cast with some sharp dialogue in places — Schneider’s character tells Christine, as a lawyer, to “get used to knowing what should happen, and accepting what does” — but it can’t lift the material beyond formula.
Based on what’s here, there’s also something mildly pretentious about the producers’ promise (in a note to media) to examine “where racism exists in today’s ‘Obama’s America,’ ” while opening the show with a quote from Nietzsche.
It’s clear the title “The Divide” is intended to refer to various rifts in society. For the purposes of this series, though, the most significant line turns out to be the one that separates good from not so good.