Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pilot Review: Killer Women

Killer Women (Tuesdays at 10:00 on ABC)

Let's get this little bit out of the way: Killer Women is better than it has any right to be with a title like Killer Women. It makes the show sound like those ridiculous true crime docudramas about wives who kill their abusive husbands or prostitutes who murder johns. But it's a teeny bit deeper than that, taking a less serious tone and managing to have fun turning stereotypes upside down.

Molly Parker (Tricia Helfer, a statuesque former model best known for starring on Battlestar Galactica) is a Texas Ranger (no, not a baseball player), one of very few women in the elite law enforcement pack. A former beauty queen, she is recently divorced and beginning a complicated new relationship with a colleague (Marc Blucas, Necessary Roughness), all while trying to prove her worth and skill to her sheriff father, to the other men in her troop, and to herself.

It's a rather thin conceit, combining elements of Raylan Givens and Cordell Walker and feeding them through a female-friendly sieve. What's the result? A campy, candy-flavored Spaghetti Western. It's about what you'd expect from a police procedural produced by Modern Family's Sofia Vergara and starring a Playboy covergirl: off-kilter, occasionally obnoxious, frothy, and fun. From the opening scenes where a seductress sashays into a church and murders a bride on her wedding day, Killer Women sets a playful tone for what could easily have been a painfully stupid operation. But director Lawrence Trilling (most recently of Parenthood) and writer/adapter Hannah Shakespeare have fun with how similar their show's silly premise is to the 1960s Spaghetti Westerns and C-list drive-in movies. They manage something vaguely resembling Tarantino and Rodriguez, which is smart and enjoyable. The series definitely isn't breaking any new ground, but at least it's got its tongue planted in its cheek.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows, however. Since Killer Women borrows so heavily from so many sources, it's entirely predictable and has a been-there, seen-that feeling. It's also completely unsubtle, as you may have guessed based on inspiration like Argentinian soap opera, dubbed low-budget Eurowesterns, and Tarantino. The performances leave something to be desired as well. Hefler is good, and physically ideal for an ass-kicking Amazon like Molly, but Marc Blucas is stilted as her new lover and everyone else is utterly forgettable. Similarly, the procedural aspects of the pilot are relatively dull and cliche, and I'm not entirely sure I'd care to watch more than a couple episodes with this same "wronged woman" or "evil woman" or (even worse) "duped woman" storyline. Plus, Molly's life isn't all that interesting in comparison to the other ABC leading ladies (Emily Thorne, Olivia Pope, etc.).

But Killer Women is pretty fun. It's very self-aware, and the direction is stylish enough to forgive the script's occasional shortcomings and cliches/ I also really like the idea of taking the ultimate idealization of masculinity, the cowboy, and flipping it around. There's a really subversive edge somewhere deep down in Killer Women, a story about feminine strength and the inherent emotional connection between women, but it's hidden beneath fluff and filler.

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