TV Review: ‘Murder in the First’

Taye Diggs, Kathleen Robertson, Tom Felton, Mimi Kirkland, Raphael Sbarge, Lombardo Boyar, Ian Anthony Dale, Bess Rous, Nicole Ari Parker, Currie Graham, Richard Schiff, James Cromwell, Steven Weber

When Steven Bochco created “Murder One” nearly 20 years ago, the concept — a series following a single murder trial over an entire season — seemed bold and ahead of its time. Today, TV is teeming with similar fare as TNT introduces “Murder in the First,” which traces a murder investigation over 10 episodes, and has the minor misfortune to follow HBO’s genre-invigorating “True Detective.” Stripped of those contextual concerns, the previewed hours establish the series as crisp and watchable, while perhaps shrewdly shifting and expanding the earlier show’s lens from defense attorneys to the detectives assigned the case.

Shepherded by Bochco and Eric Lodal, with a Thomas Schlamme-directed pilot, “Murder” also has the advantage of feeling quite compatible with TNT’s lineup in general, and the series with which it’s being paired (“Major Crimes”) in particular. Indeed, even if the Turner network’s roster tends to skew toward meat and potatoes, it’s pretty smart about scheduling programs in a manner that enhances their shot at success, including the upcoming “The Last Ship”/“Falling Skies” combo.

“Murder” picks up with San Francisco homicide detectives English (Taye Diggs) and Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson), each grappling with ample personal baggage: English’s wife is terminally ill, while Mulligan’s a divorced mom trying to raise a kid alongside her workload. Those threads, alas, are initially the weakest elements in the show.

Soon enough, the pair catch a couple of murders, both — in rather twisted but clever fashion — leading toward the doorstep of a mercurial tech billionaire, Erich Blunt (“Harry Potter’s” Tom Felton, whose intensity causes him to dominate most every scene he’s in). Notably, the principal suspect 20 years ago was a pampered actor, just one more way Silicon Valley is elbowing out Hollywood.

Imperious and pretty sure he’s invincible, Blunt virtually taunts the cops to investigate him, much to the chagrin of his legal counsel (Richard Schiff), who urges his client to seek out a famed criminal defense attorney (James Cromwell) as a precaution. Others in the splendid, deep cast include Steven Weber as the pilot of Blunt’s private jet and Ian Anthony Dale as the detectives’ boss, who bluntly informs them he doesn’t want this to become another O.J. Simpson trial.

Actually, the only drawback of that casting is that the quality of certain actors in what appear to be peripheral roles tends to arouse suspicions about what larger purpose they might serve later on. Longtime TV watchers will also doubtless get a kick out of identifying the past Bochco players who pop up throughout, from Currie Graham to Peter Onorati.

As an interesting footnote, the original “Murder One” was supposed to follow a case over 22 episodes, before being broken up into smaller arcs.

Practically speaking, about 10 episodes feels right for this sort of exercise, offering the promise of a not-too-long-deferred payoff. All of which adds up to a mildly favorable verdict — with the disclaimer that all this could change, subject to the why and how of whodunit.

TV Review: 'Murder in the First'

(Series; TNT, Mon. June 9, 10 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles and San Francisco by Steven Bochco Prods. and Shoe Money in association with TNT Originals.

Crew: Executive producers, Steven Bochco, Eric Lodal, Thomas Schlamme; producer, Caroline James; director, Schlamme; writer, Lodal; story by Bochco, Lodal; camera, Michael Mayers; production designer, Bruce Robert Hill; editor, Jim Page; music, The Hat; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson. 60 MIN.

Cast: Taye Diggs, Kathleen Robertson, Tom Felton, Mimi Kirkland, Raphael Sbarge, Lombardo Boyar, Ian Anthony Dale, Bess Rous, Nicole Ari Parker, Currie Graham, Richard Schiff, James Cromwell, Steven Weber

More TV

  • Ruth Wilson and Idris Elba'Luther Series

    'Luther' Creator Neil Cross Working on Show's Movie Version, Idris Elba Says

    A movie version of crime series “Luther” is moving forward, with writer-creator Neil Cross working on the script, the show’s star Idris Elba confirmed at the launch of Season 5 in London. “We are really advancing on getting a movie version [of the show] up on the screen,” Elba said. “Neil is beavering away on [...]

  • THE VOICE -- "Blind Auditions" --

    TV News Roundup: NBC Announces Midseason Premiere Dates

    In today’s roundup, NBC reveals midseason premiere dates for six shows, including “The Voice.” DATES  More Reviews London Theater Review: 'The Cane' Film Review: 'The Wedding' NBC has announced midseason premiere dates for four returning and two new series. “The Voice” will air Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m., and March [...]

  • David Rhodes CBS News

    CBS News Faces New Challenges in Weeks Ahead

    At CBS News, President David Rhodes has a series of important decisions to make that could affect the trajectories of some of TV’s best-known news programs. As its parent company seeks to move forward from recent seismic events – the ouster of its former CEO, Leslie Moonves; a corporate probe into its workplace culture; and [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    Europe, Hollywood Hail Landmark E.U. Territorial Licensing Agreement

    Industry organizations and major companies in Europe and Hollywood welcomed Tuesday a high-level European Union agreement that in large part preserves producers’ ability to sell movies and TV shows on an exclusive territory-by-territory basis. Territorial licensing is a financial backbone of the film and TV business in Europe. Recognition of such licensing came last Thursday in [...]

  • Queer as Folk UK Version

    'Queer as Folk' Reboot in Development at Bravo (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a competitive situation, Bravo is developing a new version of “Queer as Folk,” Variety has learned exclusively. Russell T. Davies, the creator of the original UK series, is onboard the new project as an executive producer. Stephen Dunn is attached to write, direct, and executive produce. Nicola Shindler of Red Productions, who executive produced the [...]

  • Penny Marshall Dead

    Hollywood Pays Tribute to 'Trailblazer,' 'Pioneer' Penny Marshall

    Stars across Hollywood are mourning Penny Marshall, who died Monday night at her Hollywood Hills home due to complications from diabetes, Variety has confirmed. The “Laverne & Shirley” star was 75. Marshall first rose to fame playing Laverne DeFazio in the hit ABC series “Laverne & Shirley” before going on to become the first woman to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content