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Charmed and Dangerous

A sultry Angie Harmon makes The Women’s Murder Club a pleasure; Life feels more like punishment.

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With no disrespect intended for all the other cops, private eyes, and secret agents of the new television season who happen to be immortal or bionic, none of them is Angie Harmon. Nor is the Harmon we get in Women’s Murder Club your grandmother’s Law & Order Angie. Instead of the cucumber-cool, designer-coutured Angie who was couth enough in her firecracker high heels to pass for a Condé Nastie, this Angie—as San Francisco homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer—is practically disheveled. Which is to say, she wears black jeans and running shoes, her hairstyle often looks like something out of Robert’s Rules of Order, and she packs a pistol. Yes, indeed. As if that husky voice, that compound sound of Lauren Bacall, malt whiskey, Blythe Danner, torch songs, and cigarettes, weren’t already enough of a killer, now Angie is strapped.

Angie/Lindsay is assisted in her investigations by women every bit as professional as she is. Murder Club is inspired by a series of James Patterson novels in which these women form a sodality. But Laura Harris as Jill Bernhardt, the platinum-blonde district attorney, Paula Newsome as Claire Washburn, the surprisingly jolly medical examiner, and Aubrey Dollar as Cindy Thomas, the impossibly young newspaper reporter, do not add up to a Kaffeeklatsch or a therapy group. I’m not saying that they don’t occasionally discuss emotions (usually Angie/Lindsay’s), but it’s more grad-school seminar than touchy-feely hot-tub hangout. To each case, each woman brings her particular expertise, bailing the others out of troubled waters.

These deliberations have been tricked up with nervous tics that are almost Altman-esque, a sibilance of soundtrack and a shadowbox of camerawork reflective of Lindsay’s own ravishing moodiness. While we are stuck in one scene, fricatives and diphthongs leak into our ears from the next, like a premature glimpse or proto-echo. Flashbacks arrive like electroshocks, and so do alibis and red herrings. We will have to see how the series settles, into what kind of equipoise of intrigue, cop shop, sisterhood, and gallows humor. But in the short run, Angie Harmon has given a new, slinky meaning to Friday nights at home, inhabiting her role as if it were a skin. “What astonished him,” we were told by the grumpy aphorist G.C. Lichtenberg, circa 1799, “was that cats should have two holes cut in their coats exactly at the place where their eyes were.”

Life is a harder sell. Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) stars as Charlie Crews, a Los Angeles police detective framed for a murder he didn’t commit and sentenced to life in a prison where, as a cop inside the joint, he has every bone and tooth broken. He’s exonerated after twelve years and much heroic exertion by his lawyer (Brooke Langton), after which, despite a generous settlement, he goes back to work as a cop who makes other cops feel guilty. But the man who came out is not the one who went in. He seems at once a pilgrim and a ghost. His spitfire partner (Sarah Shahi), with her own history of drug abuse, at first just finds him creepy, almost Martian. He talks to himself, or maybe (in koans) to a Zen master only he can see; eats a lot of fruit, especially pears; and stares through witnesses and suspects, as if to stalk their avatars. But just as we begin to wonder whether Life is intended to be, um, wacky, it takes a darker turn. Someone set Charlie up. Everyone’s a suspect, even his ex-wife. Nobody’s safe, except maybe his accountant (Adam Arkin), whom he protected through a durance vile for insider trading. Vengeance will be Charlie’s, a very cold surprise.

Women’s Murder Club
ABC. Fridays at 9 p.m.

Life
NBC. Wednesdays at 10 p.m.


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