TNT's new drama looks for Proof of life after death

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When the new TNT regime took over, they got rid of quite a few shows I loved like PERCEPTION, FRANKLIN AND BASH, and SULLIVAN AND SON.  I haven’t given up on TNT entirely;  they still have THE LIBRARIANS, and some of the new shows they launched this year look entertaining.  Critical Blast got an early look at the first two episodes of PROOF: “Pilot” and “Til’ Death.” 

PROOF stars Jennifer Beals as Dr. Carolyn Tyler, a brilliant heart surgeon who recently lost her son in a car crash.  She is approached by Ivan Turing (played by Matthew Modine) a dying billionaire who offers to turn over his substantial fortune to her charitable interests if she can help him find proof of what happens when you die.  Between the loss of her son, and a near-death experience of her own, Dr. Tyler finds herself curious as well, though she is a skeptic, who believes more in science than supernatural.  By the end of the first episode, she’s convinced to give it a shot. 

Assisting Carolyn on her task are Dr. Zedan "Zed" Badawi (Edi Gathegi), a young intern from Africa, and Janel Ramsey (newcomer Caroline Rose Kaplan), Turing's brilliant young protégé. Along the way, they cross paths with Peter Van Owen (Callum Blue), a bestselling author who claims to be psychic. Constantly trying to control the maverick Carolyn is her intimidating boss, Dr. Charles Richmond (Joe Morton), head of the hospital.  Rounding out the cast are David Sutcliffe and Annie Thurman as Dr. Tyler’s estranged husband and daughter.

We have a long standing rule in my house that pilots don’t count.  Too often the first episode of a series needs to deliver a ton of exposition to the viewer and help grab the viewers’ attention, so it’s not a great indication of how good the series will be.  I thought the “Pilot” episode of PROOF showed a lot of potential, but it was definitely slowed down by lots of exposition drops, followed by some painfully pregnant pauses while the characters waited for the audience to absorb the emotional impact of the line they just delivered.  But, the concept was good and for the most part I enjoyed the cast, so I decided to watch the second episode before I passed any real judgment on the series.  This was a good decision, as “Til’Death” was MUCH better than “Pilot” and gave us a much stronger sense about how episodes of this show will play out.

One thing I really enjoyed about PROOF was all the hints of supernatural without ever giving any direct answers.  I was sort of reminded of early episodes of THE X-FILES where were a skeptic could find logical answers for everything that’s going on, but there is enough to suggest there is something odd going on here too.  “Til’ Death” was a perfect example of this.  A man loses his wife in a plane crash, and throughout the episode, he believes that her ghost is still there.  We get scenes with electronic equipment going all fuzzy, mysterious fires starting, etc.   

I also like the hints of a mysterious “woman in a green scarf” that Tyler saw when she had her own near death experience.  Again, Tyler is looking for a scientific explanation, but there are definitely some teases that this mysterious figure has something to do with the other side.  In the “Pilot,” one of Tyler’s patients even warned that Tyler should back down.  Someone on the other side doesn’t like her poking around with all this life after death stuff.  It created some real strong tension that made me real curious where the show goes from here.

Jennifer Beals seems well suited for the lead here.  I am not sure that we need another gruff lead character (see HOUSE, PERCEPTION, MONK, SHERLOCK, and on and on), but Beals has a terrific ability to convey a ton of emotion in each scene she’s in.  One of my biggest complaints about “Pilot” was that she kept delivering lines to explain what she was feeling (like watching a video of her son and saying “I miss him”) which were completely unnecessary because of how she well her face shows emotions.  It sometimes felt the show was talking down to the audience, not expecting them to pick up on the not-so-subtle cues the characters were delivering.  This was toned down a little in the second episode, though it did still happen a few times.  

I thought Edi Gathegi was a stand out among the cast as Tyler’s intern, Zed.  He plays off Beals perfectly, and I hope they focus more on that relationship as the show develops.  It did bother me a little that a few times other characters refer to him casually as “The African” when he is supposed to be a brilliant intern in his own right.  They try to play it off when Turing speaks to Zed in his native language, but even that just seemed awkward.  According to Google, there are somewhere between 1500-2000 languages spoken in Africa, and yet Turing just happened to know the right one.

That said, I did like Matthew Modine as Turing, especially the scene in “Pilot” were Dr Tyler is trying to layout her “demands” and at the same time trying to get him to admit he has no idea how to get out of a hedge maze.   I thought this was a strong indication of what this show has to offer.   

On a whole the cast was great, but there just might be too many main characters.   You have Carolyn, Zed, Janel, Turning, and Van Owen, and then Carolyn’s boss and family, all vying for screen time, and it just gets to be too much at times.  I love Joe Morgan, but if he’s just going to be in a scene or two each week, it almost feels like a waste to cast him here.  Janel also feels like a wasted character, at least in the first two episodes.  She totally fails the Bechdel Test; it seems like her sole purpose in the show is to tell Dr. Tyler how awesome Turing is.   I think at this point, they would have been better keeping it just to Carolyn and Zed.

I did think that they might have leaned PROOF a little too much towards drama.  Some of the scenes, especially with Beal, could have used a little more humorous tone to help balance out some of the darker themes presented.  BUT, that could just be a personal preference thing.  I tend to prefer shows with a little more humor like PSYCH and WHITE COLLAR. 

All in all, PROOF’s first two episodes were pretty strong.  I definitely plan on giving the show a real try.  Granted, a big part of that might be because there isn’t much else that I watch over the summer.  I am not sure PROOF would stand out that much during the normal TV season, but as a summer show it has a lot of potential.  The supernatural elements are unique, and there is a real strong cast here.  I just hope that TNT doesn’t end up cancelling it way too soon like they have done a lot of shows lately. 

PROOF premieres on June 16.  By the way, Critical Blast also has reviews of the return of returning TNT favorites THE LAST SHIP and MAJOR CRIMES that you should check out.

Grade: 
3.5 / 5.0