Tag Archives: Steven Weber

Steven Bochco’s back with Murder in the First on TNT

'Murder in the First' premieres Monday on TNT.

Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs star as San Francisco police detectives investigating a pair of apparently connected killings in ‘Murder in the First,’ premiering Monday on TNT.

Ten-time Emmy winner Steven Bochco returns to primetime in his wheelhouse – the cop/courtroom drama – with Murder in the First, an uneven but promising new series premiering Monday night on TNT.
The iconoclastic writer and producer could use a hit right now. Since his groundbreaking NYPD Blue ended its ABC run after 12 seasons in 2005, he’s had two ratings failures. The excellent Geena Davis political drama Commander in Chief (ABC, 2005-06) lasted only a single season, while the quirky legal dramedy Raising the Bar eked out a 2008-09 two-season run on TNT.
Murder in the First borrows the same basic format as Bochco’s 1995-97 ABC courtroom drama Murder One, in that it follows a single case over the course of this 10-episode season. What seemed revolutionary in 1995, however, now seems commonplace. In fact, given Bochco’s career-long reputation as an artistic maverick, the most surprising thing about Murder in the First is how unsurprising it is.
Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Kathleen Robertson (Bates Motel) star as San Francisco Police detectives Terry English and Hildy Mulligan, respectively, who are investigating two seemingly unrelated murders in the premiere episode. One involves a junkie shot to death in his seedy flophouse apartment. The other victim is a beautiful (and very nude) blonde found dead at the bottom of a staircase inside her home.
In short order, however, Terry and Hildy discover that both victims had intimate ties to an unlikely but high-profile suspect: Silicon Valley boy wonder Erich Blunt (Tom Felton from the Harry Potter movie series), whose technical wizardry has transformed him into the world’s youngest billionaire.
Erich’s initial arrogance when confronted by the detectives starts to crumble as compelling circumstantial evidence against him begins piling up, so he hires super-attorney Warren Daniels (Emmy winner James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum) to represent him in court.
If Erich is the prime suspect, however, Terry and Hildy find another person of interest in Bill Wilkerson (Steven Weber, Wings), Erich’s driver and pilot, who also had had a sexual relationship with the dead woman.
TNT sent the first three episodes of Murder in the First for review, which was a smart move, because Monday’s episode is not especially compelling. In the span of a single hour, the premiere tries to introduce a staggering number of characters as well as laying out the basic details of the two murders. Concurrently, a secondary storyline shows Diggs’ character coming apart under the strain of caring for her terminally ill wife (Anne-Marie Johnson, In the Heat of the Night), a tedious subplot that only serves to distract us from the central mystery.
Robertson is terrific as Hildy, a single mom who is smart, focused and given to wisecracks. Diggs is fine, but his character’s personal story feels arbitrary and grafted on.
Based on the three episodes of Murder in the First I’ve seen, it’s Felton who turns in the most galvanizing performance. Now 26, the British actor spent most of his teen years playing nasty Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, but he has matured into a confident grown-up actor who skillfully plays things right down the middle as our principal suspect, keeping us guessing from scene to scene as to whether Erich is a sociopathic killer or just an innocent jerk. He also has potent chemistry with Robertson in scenes where each is trying to charm the other to find out what he/she knows.
By the end of the third episode, I was pretty firmly invested in Murder in the First, which sports a large ensemble that also includes Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time), Nicole Ari Parker (Revolution) and Currie Graham (Raising the Bar). If this show feels like a throwback for Bochco, maybe he just figured if it’s not broken, why fix it?
Tom Felton in 'Murder in the First.'

British actor Tom Felton stars as a young Silicon Valley billionaire who becomes the prime suspect in a double murder in TNT’s new drama ‘Murder in the First.’

A Reelz disaster

I really like Steven Weber, both as an actor and (based on my impressions from several interviews with him over the years) a human being. The guy effortlessly can switch from sitcom to drama to Broadway musical comedy (in The Producers). But my appreciation for his professionalism went up several notches after catching his work in Eve of Destruction, a two-part, four-hour disaster film premiering Friday and Saturday on the Reelz Channel.
Let me just get this out of the way immediately: This is not a good movie. True, it’s not the kind of unintentionally hilarious Mother, May I Sleep With Bigfoot? cheese that Syfy Channel delivers each and every Saturday night, with a cast usually headlined by an actor past his expiration date who hasn’t been able to book a gig yet on Hot in Cleveland (did you catch Erik Estrada in Chupacabra vs. the Alamo?), but it’s still pretty bad.
The story opens 10 years ago, in a western Russian village, where Ruslan (Aleks Paunovic), an electrical lineman, enjoys an idyllic life with his lovely wife and two children. A typical subtitled afternoon involves pushing his adorable daughter on the swingsky set before they join his son and spouse for a family dinner of Moose und Squirrel.
Ruslan’s happiness ends one night when he is dispatched to investigate and repair some outages. As he works, Ruslan is distracted by what appears to be the aurora borealis in the sky overhead. As he watches in horror, however, the shimmering aura begins to rain down violent electric pulses that reduce his village to rubble.
Flash forward a decade, and scientists Karl Dameron and Rachel Bannister (Weber and Christina Cox) join Max Salinger (Treat Williams), the bazillionaire CEO of the Proteus Group, to unveil a groundbreaking new technology that, in theory, will provide Earth – or, well, more specifically the Proteus Group – with a new source of free and unlimited energy by drilling a hole in the universe and harvesting an infinite pool of dark energy (the stuff that black holes are made of). The announcement is greeted with enthusiasm, because really, how can you hear something like “We’re going to drill a hole in the universe” and NOT think, “Huzzah! This is sure to end well!”?
Except — ***SPOILER ALERT*** — it doesn’t, but as early testing sets off red flags that a global apocalypse may be in the offing (of which the Proteus team inexplicably is unaware), guess who currently is working as a lineman in the Greater Denver area? That’s right. It’s RUSLAN, who immediately recognizes the same warning signs that presaged the annihilation of his home and family. But will he be able to persuade Karl to call off the project launch in time? Especially after Karl’s whiny teenage daughter decides to join an eco-terrorism group because Daddy works too much?
I won’t spoil the question as to whether Earth goes kaboom or how Karl might save it, especially since the pseudo-science in this film suggests that Stewie from Family Guy was the technical consultant, but in the midst of all this lunacy, Weber – against all odds — fully commits to his role and gives it everything he has to make this scientist and father as fully formed and credible as possible with the material very strongly stacked against that. (For the record, Williams also does his best with an even less credible character, while Cox is so dour and listless that it makes me want to make sure I never see Blood Ties, the Canadian vampire series that appears to be her most high-profile credit to date).
Anyway, nicely done, Mr. Weber. Here’s hoping you get the scripts you deserve, and soon!