Although scripted by two former writers from "The Shield," there's nothing gritty or particularly realistic about ABC's "Women's Murder Club" (9 p.m. Friday, WTAE), but that's OK. The show is an entertaining, estrogen-powered hour regardless.
Based on a book series by author James Patterson, "Club" follows the cases and personal lives of four San Francisco professional women: Homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer (Angie Harmon, "Law & Order"), medical examiner Claire Washburn (Paula Newsome), assistant district attorney Jill Bernhardt (Laura Harris, "24") and newspaper reporter Cindy Thomas (Aubrey Dollar).
- When: 9 p.m. Friday , ABC.
It's a procedural drama with a new case every week, but there are ongoing character stories, a tough balancing act that "Club" pulls off with aplomb (the show's writers call "Club" a "characteral"). The series works as well as it does because of the strength of its four key actresses and their chummy on-screen relationships. They share information on the murder case of the week while also leaning on one another for support in their personal lives.
Lindsay is a tough cop, but not faux TV-tough. She's dedicated to her work to the point of obsession and it cost her her marriage to Tom (Rob Estes, "Melrose Place"), who arrives as her new boss in the premiere episode.
Jill is the commitment-phobe with a doctor boyfriend she likes and a former defense attorney fling (Kyle Secor) she may still ache to be with.
Claire is the common sense-filled nurturer of the group and the only one with a relatively stable home life, complete with kids and a husband (Wilkinsburg native Jonathan Adams), who's in a wheelchair for reasons not yet divulged.
Reporter Cindy is the newcomer who begins to be more accepted into the group in the show's second episode.
Written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain -- Patterson is an executive producer -- this "Club" premiere is not the original pilot, which I also enjoyed. The pilot was tossed out in favor of this hour that does a better job of introducing all the characters plus an ongoing murder investigation that will continue through at least a portion of the first season. (TV writer Gretchen Berg, a Franklin Park native, is working on the series and penned an upcoming episode with her writing partner, Aaron Harberts.)
Although "Murder" is in the show's title, this "Club" is not as thematically dark as other crime procedurals. There's a lightness to the lead characters and their interactions that's a welcome change of pace.
When the women examine a body in the premiere, one of them pulls up the sheet and makes note of the victim's grooming habits: "Not your mama's bikini wax," she says.
Next week, when Lindsay meets Tom's fiance while he's putting on a new shirt, she's distressed that Tom showed no reaction, despite her protests that she's moved on.
"I would still expect a flinch!" she says.
Harmon is hugely likeable in the lead role, and although her Lindsay occasionally brings to mind another lovelorn ABC brunette (Teri Hatcher's Susan on "Desperate Housewives"), she's much less annoying. All the women play their respective parts well, with Newsome adding heart and Harris giving some heat despite her ice princess look.
I've never read a Patterson novel, so I can't say how the depictions of the characters here compare to their likenesses in the books, but taken on its own merits, "Women's Murder Club" is the most pleasant surprise of the fall TV season -- a "Club" worth joining.