Dana Delany doesn't have to prove to anyone that she's a TV star of the highest caliber. Her body of work, starting with the indelible Vietnam War classic China Beach, speaks for itself.
But not since China's Colleen McMurphy has Delany had a role so well suited for her foxy, sardonic magnetism as Dr. Megan Hunt, neurosurgeon-turned-medical examiner/crime solver in the new Body of Proof. It's ABC's latest attempt to launch a crime drama to compete with the hit procedurals on other networks; only the more comedic Castle has had any traction in recent years. (ABC's latest casualty: the underrated Detroit 1-8-7.)
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From the few episodes I've seen so far, Body of Proof is just ordinary enough to be a success. There's nothing in it you haven't seen several hundred times before: a blend of CSI science, Bones banter, Mentalist uncanny acuity, House haughtiness, Rizzoli & Isles eye candy. In an encouraging sign, the problems of this week's often-unbearable pilot episode are for the most part being addressed by Episode Two.
But first you have to make it through a pilot hour choked with exposition, presenting Delany's character repeatedly in the most annoying light possible. Smug and arrogant as this know-it-all appears at a crime scene (Providence, R.I., pretending to be Philadelphia), she antagonizes local detectives John Carroll Lynch and Sonja Sohn with Sherlock-ian observations followed by lines like, "Don't believe everything you've heard about me. The truth is much worse."
And much more clichéd. Here's her backstory in a nutshell: Dr. Megan Hunt was a world-class neurosurgeon, so driven she sacrificed her husband and custody of her daughter to her work. A car accident four years ago robbed her of her surgical skills (she loses a patient) and forces a career change, if not a change in attitude. She's a terror to everyone in her wake, but we're supposed to shift gears and pity her because Awful Old Husband (Jeffrey Nordling, who deserves better) won't let her near her sweet little girl, not even to give her a special birthday present.
"You might try playing nice once in a while," advises Peter, her long-suffering hunk of a partner (Nicholas Bishop), to little avail. An ex-cop investigator, Peter tags along with Megan as she butts in repeatedly, and preposterously, during confrontational interrogations. Even by TV's loose standards of unreality, this is too much. Her boss, the knockout Jeri Ryan, appreciates Megan's brilliance, but warns, "The knives will come out the minute you screw up."
When one of the real detectives sputters that he's never known an ME "as big a pain in the ass as you," Megan smirks back, "They're also not as good as I am." To prove it, watch her barking insta-diagnoses to a nerdy squin-tern as she struts-and-talks around the lab. And worse, listen to her explain the show's title: "The body is the proof. It will tell you everything you need to know if you only have the patience to look." We get it, Megan. Please never go there again.
Delany delivers all of this with as much snap and gusto as a fierce pro can muster. (Hey, she even survived playing one of Desperate Housewives' more hopelessly ill-conceived dishrags.) And the good news is that by week two, when confronted with a victim who hits uncomfortably close to home, Megan begins to realize the limitations of not being able to read the living as well as she reads the dead. As Peter wryly notes, "Even the most observant person in the world can miss what's going on right in front of them." So Megan tries to play nice, awkwardly pretending to be interested in her colleagues' lives, attempts that invariably backfire. If this development doesn't exactly humanize her, it at least makes her more enjoyable to watch.
But still, it takes a giant suspension of disbelief — so what else is new? — to watch a medical examiner keep dashing into the field, chasing leads and questioning suspects, always a step ahead of the local cops. Who does Megan think she is, Horatio Caine?
Body of Proof premieres Tuesday, 10/9c, on ABC
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