Completing its evolution (and in this case, descent) initiated under old management, from court to crime channel, Court TV’s first scripted series is a kind of revival of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” — only here, camp director John Waters presides over tawdry half-hour tales about spousal murder. Cheaply produced in Canada and badly acted, it’s the perhaps inevitable end point of the TV movie’s demise — boiling down ripped-from-the-headlines situations from what once would have been longform projects to hasty little filmettes. Based on an initial sampling, they can’t bury this one quickly enough.
Waters, of “Pink Flamingos” notoriety, appears briefly in each short as the “Groom Reaper,” impishly dispensing witticisms about the two cases paired in each hour. In that respect, it’s a new twist on an old-fashioned anthology, though the endings are only vaguely macabre or surprising, while the murders and sexual situations are trashy but too poorly executed to qualify as titillating.
The disclaimer stresses that all stories are based on real court cases, only names and locations are fictional, and “characters and events have been invented or combined for dramatic purposes” — which makes you wonder why even bother with the “real court cases” part in the first place.
In the opening hour, a much older husband wrestles with a failing marriage to his money-hungry young wife, while the second installment involves a funeral home director whose wife’s self-improvement regimen drives a wedge between them.
Back when the major networks were eagerly pumping out true-crime movies, these tales might have produced juicy parts for Cheryl Ladd or Tori Spelling. As is, ” ‘Til Death Do Us Part” barely develops a plot or story before somebody is choked, bludgeoned or shoved into a plastic bag.
Court TV has already graduated to TV movies and announced an unspecified network name change to take effect next year, so it’s not much of a leap/stumble into the scripted series format. Still, if this shoddy stab at drama represents the channel’s future, cable operators might be the ones feeling jilted and wondering where the love has gone.