Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pilot Review: The Mysteries of Laura

The Mysteries of Laura (Wednesdays at 8:00 on NBC)

The biggest mystery in The Mysteries of Laura is why Debra Messing, an Emmy winner for Will & Grace (and a nominee for The Starter Wife, her first television foray after that sitcom ended in 2006), has chosen to attempt another NBC comeback with this particular show. Is this really the best the broadcast network had to offer her? Or was there something in the writing which sparked Messing's interest, only to be lost in translation to the pilot? Perhaps she just wanted more screen time after being one of three female leads on Smash? Whatever the reason, it's certainly not that The Mysteries of Laura is a strong show.

Messing stars as Laura Diamond, a quirky woman who's trying to do it all... which, in the world of women on television, means she's trying to balance being a mom and working full time. In most circles, this is simply considered "living," but on TV, it's something seemingly impossible. Granted, Laura's five-year-old twins are demonic little things and her job is as a homicide detective, so things may be a little more complicated for her than most, but still... millions of moms do this sort of thing everyday without a tenth of the stress Laura exudes. She's in the middle of a divorce from her cop husband (Josh Lucas, The Firm), who acts like her third child rather than a parent, and is finding it difficult to balance solving murders with looking for childcare.

It's kind of an insulting premise for a female-centric series. I would think many women would scoff at Laura's melodramatics, especially if they are in a similar situation. Laura is a mess, a clearly gifted woman who just can't get enough help but also can't do it all on her own. So she's just doing her best... which means leaving her kids unsupervised while she is on the case, drugging them with cough syrup to get them to calm down, and having them run free at the precinct when she can't find childcare. Please tell me there are moms out there struggling with a work/family balance who wouldn't make such irresponsible decisions. This makes it hard to root for Laura, though being the only clearly defined character helps to at least identify with her. Everybody else is a cliched stock type or else window dressing. Lucas is the perpetual manchild who cheated and thinks he deserves a second chance because it's "out of [his] system" (ugh); Laz Alonso is Laura's partner, who has literally nothing remarkable or memorable about him; and Max Jenkins is the precinct's "investigative assistant," which basically means he carries around an iPad and delivers lots of exposition. It's absurd how underdeveloped the characters are. Even Laura has very little characterization beyond "frazzled working mom," and what little quirks there are to her are thanks to Messing's grounded, often funnier-than-the-material performance. Messing is capable of so much more, though, than looking surprisingly good in a swimsuit or mocking the masculinity of a suspect she's interrogating. And her dramatic chops definitely outweigh the awful stuff she is given to do in the pilot's final act, when the dull murder mystery is solved.

The failure of The Mysteries of Laura rests squarely on the shoulders of its development team. Jeff Rake, whose most recent credits are too less-than-stellar CW shows in The Tomorrow People and Beauty and the Beast, has written a pilot based Javier Holgado and Carlos Vila's Spanish series, Los misterios de Laura, and he hasn't done it well. The jokes are one-note, the drama is dull, the dialogue is clunky, and the characters are almost non-existent. Director McG (the Charlie's Angels films, Chuck) adds some visual flair and a kind of modern day Columbo feel, but his and Messing's quirkiness aren't enough to make Laura interesting. It's exactly the kind of show you would expect a bunch of men to make about being a modern woman. It's so obvious that it's almost degrading, from Laura's tired struggle to be both a good mom and a good detective to the not-so-subtle suggestion that she will take back her philandering, absentee father ex-husband. Women deserve better than to be represented like this. And Debra Messing deserves better than to be playing a thankless character like Laura.

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