“Proof” explores the mother of all mysteries — what happens after we die? — in the most uninspired and banal of ways. Filled with cliches, the TNT series benefits from the casting of Jennifer Beals in the central role, but handcuffs her with a drab character and dead-end (pardon the pun) concept, which, as executed, demonstrates what would happen if a medical procedural and “The X-Files” had a baby. In theory, there’s an interesting and provocative show here; it’s just not the one that’s been made.
Beals’ Dr. Carolyn Tyler is introduced in the operating room, storming around and intimidating underlings as she demands that they “get it right the first time, no questions asked.” Soon enough, though, she is being pursued by Ivan Turing, an eccentric tech billionaire with a fatal diagnosis (played by Matthew Modine, and clearly intended to evoke the late Steve Jobs). While the disease can’t be stopped, his intellectual curiosity wants to know what he’ll face on the other side — even if that’s nothingness — and, as he notes with a mix of enthusiasm and resignation, “I have the resources to find out.”
Carolyn has been chosen by Ivan precisely because she’s a skeptic, but also based on her tragic past: She not only lost a teenage son, but suffered a near-death experience herself. Her reluctance to help Ivan soon fades, though, as she uses those aforementioned resources to assemble a team to assist in her investigations, without giving up her day job at the hospital. For good measure, the show throws in a psychic (Callum Blue), whose spectral observations only fuel the good doctor’s doubts.
Created by Rob Bragin and counting “The Closer” star Kyra Sedgwick among its producers, “Proof” can’t do much more than spin its wheels after that, delving into different cases (three episodes were previewed) where some sort of afterlife connection is either sought or suspected. Along the way, more details dribble out about Carolyn, but her separation from her husband (David Sutcliffe) and relationship with her daughter (Annie Thurman) have a decidedly familiar quality, and the show mostly squanders a supporting cast that includes Joe Morton as Carolyn’s boss and Edi Gathegi as her ambitious if slightly abused intern.
The Turner networks have discussed a bit of an image makeover under new management, but “Proof” seems squarely lifted out of the old comfort-food model. Except that in this case, the truth figures to remain out there, well, forever, or at least until Ivan succumbs. As for the prospect of the series evolving into anything more interesting, that, even more than the subject matter, requires a sizable leap of faith.