Murder in the First is a new crime drama that premiered on TNT this week. It follows Detectives Terry English (Taye Diggs, Private Practice) and Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson, Boss) as they investigate a couple of murders that seem to both be connected to young, rich tech genius, Erich Blunt (Tom Felton, the Harry Potter films). Can they find the truth and bring the murder or murderers to justice?
I have to give TNT credit for trying to tackle a higher-concept series. On a channel that has plenty of case-of-the-week procedurals, including Rizzoli & Isles, Franklin & Bash, Perception, and Major Crimes, it’s refreshing to see a series that is actually going to have the story running for multiple weeks, not a quickly tie up at the end of the hour. Admittedly, TNT has done serials before, such as Falling Skies and Dallas, but this is the first time I can think of them doing a show like this in the crime genre. Are they finally ready to enter the fray of high-concept investigation programs, competing against True Detective and its ilk?
Murder in the First reminds me of The Killing, in that it sets up a complicated case with many different players and moving parts. There’s definitely an effort made to build something complex and engaging, with a number of different personalities in different roles participating, including lawyers and a judge, as well as the cops and those connected with the central tycoon. The case will be carried out over the course of a season, at least, to allow greater depth in the story. We will get snippets of the larger picture, which will only culminate after much time is spent following the clues.
The problem is, Murder in the First immediately establishes itself as far less interesting than those shows it directly competes with. The characters are mostly from stock, with children and a dying wife thrust upon the lead detectives, scenarios that are designed purely to create more drama, not because it furthers the story or enriches the roles, at least, that’s how it comes across in the “Pilot,” given the predictable way in which they’re handled. While there may be ‘twists’ coming up, there is no shades of grey in the way Blunt is introduced, very clearly telegraphing himself as a person of interest. And the pacing is far more concerned with action and developments than allowing the actors to dwell on their emotions.
This is a shame because Murder in the First has lined up an excellent roster. Besides Diggs, Robertson, and Felton, the cast is loaded with James Cromwell (American Horror Story: Asylum), Steven Weber (Wings), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time), Ian Anthony Dale (Hawaii Five-O), Nicole Ari Parker (Revolution), Currie Graham (Raising the Bar), and others. This is great ensemble and they could handle much more advanced material than they are being given. It seems downright cruel to tease them with a show that should be good, and then deliver another mediocre installment.
Can Murder in the First rise above these weak roots and grow into a strong tree, an oak anchoring the network? Probably not. In a world where AMC, HBO, FX, Netflix, and so many other strong competitors are breaking fresh ground, really stretching the art of storytelling and exploring new corners of familiar worlds, Murder in the First is too little, too late, a pale copy of other series. I suggest if TNT wants to play with the big boys it return to the drawing board and come up with something totally original, rather than copying other works. It shouldn’t compete in a formula that it cannot possibly win, hurting itself in the inevitable comparisons.
Murder in the First airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.