Last year, NBC came at the fall with “The Blacklist,” a series smartly leveraging certain narrative trends (quasi-criminal genius seeking redemption) to showcase the talents of popular television star James Spader. The result? Bull’s-eye.
This year, NBC opens on Wednesday with “The Mysteries of Laura,” a series that also leans into a trend (the blurring of drama and comedy) with the hope of re-purposing the talents of popular television star Debra Messing. The result?
Well, how many points do you get for grazing the white part around the edge of the target?
Adapted from the Spanish television series “Los Misterios de Laura,” it has a sound enough premise. Laura Diamond (Messing) is an NYPD homicide detective trying to balance work with home, home being her almost-ex-husband and fellow detective Jake (Josh Lucas, criminally underutilized in the premiere) and their two exceptionally under-parented twin boys. She is aided in her efforts by her partner Billy (Laz Alonso) and the department’s fabulous assistant Max (Max Jenkins), who may deserve a show of his own.
Unfortunately, Messing, though talented in many ways, is absolutely and completely unbelievable as a homicide detective. Even this stretched-to-ditziness-but-still-tough-enough-to-get-the-job-done version.
It certainly doesn’t help that the show opens with her in hot pursuit of some gun-wielding thug as he races through a very crowded Battery Park. Wearing a raincoat that she will then cling to throughout the episode as if it had been bequeathed to her by Mr. Peter Falk, she mutters “humorous” asides like “why are all these people in the park? Don’t they have jobs?” before pulling a gun and aiming it at said thug, who grabs a hostage. Then she fires Right At Their Heads.
Frankly, having rewound the scene several times, I’m pretty sure the shot was in direct violation of law enforcement regulations, as I understand them from television, and also mathematically impossible.
But that’s how “The Mysteries of Laura” rolls: mathematically impossible.
Humor is part of many crime procedurals these days, including and especially “Castle,” in which Nathan Fillion anchors a team that regularly juggles the lighthearted with the dark. But those sorts of organically amusing moments are not enough for writer Jeff Rake (“Boston Legal”), who attempts much broader comedy — Laura eating messily (she’s overworked and unselfconscious!!), Laura threatening a cheerleading coach to get her kids in private school (she’s stressed out but resourceful!), Laura’s kids peeing on each other in Central Park (I got nothing; as a passerby says, “That’s just nasty”).
Problem is, none of it is funny enough to compensate for its complete conflict with any semblance of crime investigation. Even one as silly as that of the premiere, in which a rich guy calls Laura and her boss to his house because someone has threatened his life, and then is killed while the two cops are standing in the driveway!
Also, the guy who gets killed appears to have ransacked the scarf drawer on the “Smash” set. (Really? You swathe a guy in scarves for a Debra Messing premiere?)
Making her way through the suspects, Laura finally reveals the killer in a scene almost as absurd as the opener.
Some of this may be an issue of translation. Television’s increasingly liberal immigration policy is a wonderful thing, but many fine shows find the journey to America arduous, assimilation imperfect. And the very things that made Messing a star — her talent for physical comedy, her outsized expressiveness — work against her here.
Drama may morph to dramedy, but “The Mysteries of Laura” is not a sitcom, and too often Messing is allowed to forget that, playing, big, as if to a live audience. Which isn’t, you know, there.
She’s best in her scenes with Lucas, who, one can only hope, is going to have more to do in future episodes. Then, she fully occupies a familiar but still compelling role: the woman who has too long confused drama with passion and is now trying to self-correct.
If only the show would do the same.
‘The Mysteries of Laura’
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14-DSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, sex and violence)