“Why don’t we go to the Publican together. I’ll wear my good shirt, it’s got buttons on it.” – A little local flavor in a line from “Proven Innocent.”
On the new Fox TV legal drama “Proven Innocent,” crusading defense lawyers operate out of offices worthy of a cash-rich Internet start-up operation and try their cases in arguably the most immaculate and tastefully appointed courtroom in all of Cook County.
They sure know how to build some impressive-looking sets over at the Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on the West Side. If only the content of “Proven Innocent” was as impressive and slick and sleek as the production design.
Based on the two episodes provided to critics, “Proven Innocent” looks to be a middling, mildly involving and sensationalistic crime anthology, with self-contained, single-episode plots about seeking justice for the wrongfully accused and the wrongfully convicted, along with an ongoing mystery about a murder more than a decade earlier.
The tabloid-friendly, relatively complex old case is more compelling than the all-too-conveniently-resolved one-off plots.
Rachelle Lefevre is Earnest with a capital E playing Madeline Scott, who heads the Injustice Defense Group, a small but fiercely determined firm dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions and fighting on behalf of underdogs everywhere. (Well. In Chicago.)
As we learn via the awkwardly presented framing device/weekly podcast from the group’s “social media director” (Nikki M. James), Madeline and her brother Levi (Riley Smith) spent some 10 years in prison for the murder of Madeline’s best friend — a murder they didn’t commit.
Or did they?
Madeline got her B.A. in prison, went on to Yale Law School after her release and is now legal partners with Easy Boudreau (Russell Hornsby, delivering the best work on the show), the very lawyer who helped overturn her conviction.
And now they’re on the move, righting wrongs left and right! And right and left!
The hiss-worthy villain in “Proven Innocent” is one Gore Bellows (Kelsey Grammer), the prosecutor who put Madeline behind bars and still thinks she’s guilty, as he tells her when they meet in court.
Seems like only yesterday Kelsey Grammer was playing a ruthless and ethically bankrupt Chicago mayor on the Starz series “Boss,” which ended abruptly after two seasons and left Grammer’s Mayor Tom Kane in a permanent state of Television Limbo.
In fact, it’s been more than six years since “Boss” was killed off — more than enough time for us to accept Grammer playing another ambitious and corrupt local politician. (D.A. Bellows has recently announced he’s running for attorney general of Illinois.) Too bad this new guy is a cartoonish, sneering caricature who wouldn’t last a week going up against Mayor Kane.
Even for a series that hardly positions itself as docudrama realistic, “Proven Innocent” regularly takes out its poetic license, to wit:
• In one case, a pro-life judge is so blatantly biased against the defendant and so dismissive of Madeline, he might as well take a seat at the prosecution table.
• A reporter for “The Chicago Daily Post” lands a date with Madeline — and immediately announces he’s got an “in” with her. Turns out the guy is romancing Madeline just to get a story! Boooooo!
• The relationship between a female Chicago cop and a main character is .… problematic. And kinky.
Granted, some of this over-the-top stuff is entertaining, while other storylines are more off-putting, e.g. a case involving a woman who confessed to setting her child on fire and was dubbed the “Wicked Witch of West Pullman” and the “Satanic Goth Queen,” and a glimpse of a rag called CHI WEEKLY that called Madeline a “SKANK!” in all caps.
“Proven Innocent” is also filled, for no apparent reason, with comic book names, from Easy Boudreau to Bodie Quick to Gore Bellows to a husband named Brian Husband. (“Wait, Brian Husband is your husband,” Madeline says to a rival. “That means you’re Heather Husband!” OK.)
Nor can the show be accused of playing it safe. A future episode includes a plot about a Muslim woman on trial for murdering her unborn child and leaving the fetus in a construction site trash bin. The key piece of evidence in the case is “the Mexican abortion pill she bought online.” Gore calls her “the Jihadist baby killer.”
Jeez. Maybe this guy Gore Bellows has more than a little Mayor Tom Kane in him after all.
8 to 9 p.m. Fridays on WFLD-Channel 32.