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Body of Proof, “Pilot” (1.01)

Dr. Megan Hunt (Dana Delany) listens to bad news on the phone.

A review of the pilot of Dana Delany‘s new medical examiner show, written by Christopher Murphey and directed by Nelson McCormick, after the jump…

“You can’t fight everybody, all the time, alone.” – Dr. Kate Murphy

Body of Proof follows very much what you might call the Castle or House model: a compelling lead character, headlining a procedural that otherwise wouldn’t rate an hour of your time a week. The test of these shows, then, isn’t the power of the procedural elements, but of how memorable that lead is.

So, it’s fair to say this pilot rides completely on Dana Delaney‘s back. And she delivers.

Body of Proof‘s Dr. Megan Hunt isn’t as showy as Hugh Laurie‘s Dr. House or Nathan Fillion‘s Castle, but she shares many traits with them. She has a reputation for being off-book, one she enjoys the mythology of, and (moreso like House or Emily Deschanel‘s Bones than Castle), is hyper-competent at her job. She’s dynamic and interesting, with a life nicely fleshed out by the end of the pilot. Though a car accident destroyed her career as a neurosurgeon, her problems didn’t start there: we’re told very clearly that Megan struggled with how to be both a mother and a neurosurgeon, and how her husband’s betrayal left her with the choice made for her.

She’s prickly, but she’s not mean, and that is as key to her character as anything. Her confidence and abrasiveness loses her friends not because she alienates them, but because she refuses to acknowledge any authority that cannot better her own competence. Watching her work circles around her castmates is still fun, though, because the pilot makes her competence realistic: there’s a price to someone focusing this much on the job, even if her motivations have shifted from career advancement to a need for justice.

And when she needs to, she lets the barrier down a little. One of the best moments for her character was a throwaway: when her student nervously declares that he would have ‘eventually’ figured out the diagnosis, Megan isn’t condescending, but proud, when she tells him, “I know.” She’s able to recognise when someone is worth her time and respect, or when (like Curtis) they aren’t. That’s why the scenes of her students running up to her with questions, and her patiently leading them in the right direction, plays completely different than another ‘abrasive’ genius like House.

And the show builds a nice relationship between her and Dr. Kate Murphy, the Chief Medical Examiner played by Jeri Ryan. Murphy only pops up in the back half for a handful of scenes, but in that time the show plays on one of its other, quieter themes: women and the double standard in the workplace. Megan tells her partner Peter Dunlap (Nicholas Bishop), “[My husband got full custody] because a woman who works 18 hours a day is an absentee mother, and a man who works the same hours is a good provider.” The same undercurrent plays out with her final moment with Murphy, as Murphy warns her that one sign of weakness, and they will tear Megan down. The implication is that Murphy and Megan build a kind of friendship through solidarity: Murphy respects her, but can’t protect her forever, as much as she respects her. That was a good moment.

However, this pilot knows its a Dana Delany star vehicle from the get-go, which leaves the other castmates out to dry. Castle and Bones gave their lead a really strong partner, working as both a romantic co-lead and a compelling character that reflects the ‘other’ side of the lead. Hunt doesn’t have that.  Because Nicholas Bishop both isn’t compelling enough to play Beckett to Delany‘s Castle, and because of the series’ episodic structure as shown here, there isn’t a compelling core pair that will allow the rest of the ensemble to flit around them.

That means that the lead must be matched by each castmate in order to give the show legs; watching Dana Delaney act circles around cardboard characters will be fun for maybe three episodes. Bones and House made sure to build the ensemble around their leads in a really strong way, so that their lead wasn’t carrying every scene. Moving forward, Body of Proof needs to do that, and fast. Bones didn’t really have a compelling ensemble until, at the earliest, nine episodes in: though it survived, plenty of shows without such a patient audience don’t. In this pilot, some characters leave impressions, but not one of them has any real depth to them. I’m not saying its a problem in the pilot – to the contrary, the show’s main strength is Delany and it makes sure to service that here. But if I don’t find another compelling character in episode two, I’ll start to be a little worried the show will fall down around its lead’s great performance.

Bones and Castle have showed us that you don’t need great mysteries to be a great character procedural. House showed us you can have one when we cant really guess the next beat of the mystery. So building that ensemble could mean the difference between five seasons… and one.

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  1. […] weekly plots and the ensemble cast aren’t up to par; see, for example, the somewhat-similar Body of Proof that premiered on ABC this season. King, however, doesn’t. for example: The connection […]



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