Monday, June 15, 2015

Pilot Review: Proof

Proof (Tuesdays at 10:00 on TNT; Premieres June 16)

It's nothing new for a procedural show to dabble in the paranormal (see: The X Files). TNT's latest is a medical procedural immersed in death and dying, not aliens or the supernatural, but the earlier series' influence on Proof is obvious and heavy. Also showing hints of TNT's own former dramas Saving Grace and HawthoRNe, Proof is an interesting but wishy-washy approach to a paranormal procedural.

Jennifer Beals, of Flashdance fame and most recently seen on Fox's The Mob Doctor, plays Doctor Carolyn Tyler, a brilliant surgeon and humanitarian with terrible people skills and a mean streak. A year ago, her teenage son was killed in a car crash, leading to the dissolution of her marriage and a strained relationship with her daughter. She is hired by dying billionaire Ivan Turing (Matthew Modine) to find definitive proof of whether life exists after death, a topic with which she is familiar after she was saved from drowning when providing aid to tsunami victims. It's a flimsy premise that allows the characters pretty much ultimate freedom to do or be whatever the writers may want. To investigate cases of near-death experiences, reincarnations, and hauntings, they will have access to endless amounts of cash and other resources, and with a protagonist that's both a woman of a science and a grieving mother who just wants to see her child again, the show doesn't need to fall on either side of the skeptic/believer divide.

And that's Proof's biggest weakness. It can't make up its mind if it wants us to believe in an afterlife or not. The pilot does nothing to truly suggest the show will lean one way or the other. Will it fully embrace its paranormal side and introduce ghosts, spirits, demons, and what have you? Or will everything be easily dismissed as hallucinatory or coincidental? Tyler herself waffles between the two throughout the pilot, first dismissing Turing's offer outright but then reconsidering when a little girl insists she went to The Other Place and encountered dead relatives she knows nothing about otherwise. Even at the pilot's end, when Tyler's daughter asks if she thinks she'll find proof of the afterlife, Tyler answers, "I don't know."

And I don't either. Am I supposed to believe in the afterlife? Proof doesn't lead me in that direction, or in the other. Every time something seems convincing that something does exist beyond, Tyler is there with a medical explanation of why it may not. Encounters with the dead could be a coping mechanism of the brain that science doesn't fully know or understand; they could be hallucinations or dreams. The little girl's drawings of people she met when she died could be anyone, not necessarily the dead family members her parents assume them to be; they are, after all, a child's crayon art.

Dr. Tyler's intern, a young African played by House's Edi Gathegi, outright states that "people believe what they want to believe." Proof seems to want that to be the case for its audience as well. If you believe in the afterlife, you'll be convinced by those arguments. If you don't, you won't be. It's the show's most interesting aspect, much more so than Tyler's familial drama or her surgical prowess (the opening scene is written in that ridiculously stupid way medical dramas tend to be, where no one says anything in actual English but rather just yells ER jargon about stents and shocking and saline and CC's). But it's also the aspect that creator Rob Bragin (formerly a writer for shows as diverse as Murphy Brown, Greek, and Pee-wee's Playhouse) struggles to make sense of the most. Beals is grounded in the scenes where she's dealing with her rebellious teenage daughter, giving her best performances then, but the show itself is more interesting when she's investigating the paranormal. It's a catch that Bragin and his staff will have to write themselves out of in future episodes of Proof if it's going to be any good. Either work to disprove the afterlife theories, or work to prove them. But right now, the show just wants the audience to "believe what they want," and that's going to get really boring after a while.

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