Television review: 'Body of Proof'

"Body of Proof" is a new criminal procedural on ABC. It stars Dana Delany as Dr. Megan Hunt, a neurosurgeon turned medical examiner who uses her prodigious knowledge of medicine and the human body to solve killings much faster than the detectives assigned to the case. Is it necessary to add that she is brilliant but driven by anger and a troubled past? That she locks horns with authority and brushes aside any friendly offers of aid? That she can read a person's recent history from a shaving nick and that chance remarks cause her to gaze into the middle distance as her synapses miraculously solve the case?

If it is, then you don't watch much television. These characteristics could be describing half a dozen current lead characters on shows, including "The Mentalist" and "House," who may nod in passing to Sherlock Holmes (or, in this case, "Quincy, M.E.") but increasingly seem to be the product of some Modern Detective App.

At least "Body of Proof" has Delany, who's always interesting to watch even when she's uttering unfortunate lines such as "I'm not most people" or "Don't believe everything you've heard about me. The truth is much worse." Likewise, though she is surrounded by a cast of cookie-cutter characters, the actors who play them are equally solid — Nicholas Bishop, last seen in "Past Lives," is Peter Dunlop, a former cop who is Hunt's minder and surrogate friend; Jeri Ryan is Dr. Kate Murphy, the strict but supportive boss; John Carroll Lynch plays the dubious Det. Bud Morris; and Sonja Sohn, late of "The Wire," is his more forgiving partner, Det. Samantha Baker.

Unfortunately, writer Christopher Murphey forces his characters to hit stage marks worn so smooth the actors can't help but just slip-slide from one to the other. Hunt strides down halls in Anna Wintour glasses making crack diagnoses for other doctors, but she's in trouble with the administration for ordering expensive tests. Det. Morris knows Hunt has solved many crimes, but still he questions her every move, probably because Hunt oversteps even the most elastic definition of medical examiner, making superhuman leaps of psychology, pharmacology and legality.

In the pilot, they gather together over the body of a young woman dragged from one of Philadelphia's rivers who suffered a blunt force blow to the back of the head. Hunt's mantra is that the body doesn't lie; the corpse is the ultimate piece of evidence and can tell you the story of a person's life in a way that a conversation cannot. Although this is a handy, which is to say often irritating, writer's device (in the pilot, much too much is made of the young woman's scars), it is also what makes forensics shows so enormously appealing. The truth is not "out there," it's in here. Literally. Our lives leave an imprint that cannot be denied.

In addition to Delany's star power, "Body of Proof" has a mildly promising back story. A car accident left Hunt with a (possibly psychosomatic) numbness in her hands, which ended her neurosurgery career right around the time she was losing her husband and child because of her demanding neurosurgery career. (How her mean and bitter spouse managed to get full custody is skated over — one would assume the head of neurosurgery at a fancy Philadelphia hospital would be able to afford a really good lawyer.)

Still, Murphey and the writers will have to do a lot of heavy lifting for "Body of Proof" to transcend its immediate predictability. There's only so much Delany can do with a cardboard show. God may be in the details, but the walls still have to hold.

'Body of Proof'

Where: ABC

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG-DLSV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)

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