With a show as loaded with lazy cop tropes as “The Mysteries of Laura,” it's tempting to bust out a few TV critic clichés in kind. Maybe I could suggest that the series – whose promos all suggest that the chief mystery is how in the world a woman could possibly be both a cop and a mom(*) at the same time – is in the running for the best new fall show of 1984.
(*) Linda Holmes of NPR has dubbed the show “CopMom, MomCop,” and her catchy alternate theme song is probably a better critique of the show than the one you're reading here.
But that would be unfair to 1984, whose best new fall show was “The Cosby Show.” More importantly, that season led to the first Outstanding Drama Series Emmy win for “Cagney & Lacey,” a cop show that dealt with all sorts of questions about the life of a female police detective – including the challenges of balancing work and family – with levels of nuance, thoughtfulness and drama that puts “The Mysteries of Laura” to shame 30 years later.
Besides, the series' awful pilot episode (it airs Wednesday night at 10, before shifting into the show's regular Wednesday at 8 timeslot the following week) inadvertently solves the big mystery of how Laura (Debra Messing) can, in the year 2014, somehow, some way, improbably be both cop and mom:
Laura's able to do both because she is a spectacularly awful mother, and human being in general.
It isn't just that the two boys she's raising mostly on her own – because her estranged husband Jake (Josh Lucas) is a smug sociopath masquerading as a charming dude-bro – have turned out to be uncontrollable little monsters whom no daycare or pre-K system understandably wants anything to do with. It isn't just that she has to resort to blackmailing a teacher at one school to get the kids an interview, nor that she has to drug the boys with cough medicine so they'll be too sleepy to reveal their disgusting true natures during said interview. It's that all these things are true, and more, and yet the emotional climax of the pilot involves Jake standing up for Laura with a cartoonishly snooty private school administrator by yelling, “She is the best mom you could hope to have in your stupid school, you snobbish pre-K Nazi queen!”
Laura's a bad mom whom the show wants us to see as awesome, and she's an obnoxious human being whom the show wants us to see as fabulous. (In the thankless role of the one detective on the squad who can't stand Laura, “True Blood” alum Janina Gavankar actually seems like the most reasonable human being on the show.)
She appears to be better at the copping than the momming, but mainly because the case in the plot is so creaky that the main character of any cop show ever made would look good(**) while solving it.
(**) And the show does seem to go out of its way to remind you of just how good its star can look. The pilot features a scene where Laura impresses her partner Billy (Laz Alonso) with how good she looks in a designer swimsuit, and pictures from episode 2 suggest she'll have to go undercover in a slinky dress. My prediction: for sweeps, the show puts Laura in a rehash of the plot of “Miss Congeniality.”
The show is based on a Spanish TV series of the same name. Spanish-language dramas have been tricky for U.S. networks to imitate, because the ones adapted here tend mix a bunch of broad, seemingly incompatible tones into the same program. “Ugly Betty” worked for a little while (and the CW's “Jane the Virgin” is one of this fall's better pilots), but others like “Killer Women” have failed quickly. “The Mysteries of Laura” is trying to be big and comic and goofy even as it's trying to sell its heroine as both a badass cop (the opening scene involves her shooting to wound a hostage-taker after he taunts her by saying, “Bite me, bitch!”) and a caring mom. Nothing flows together, the main character is abrasive, the suspects are all caricatures, the frequent plugs for a certain big box store are clumsy even by the standards of modern product integration and nothing in it works.
A bigger mystery than “How can a woman be a cop and a mom?” is why in the world NBC picked up this show. In a fall season with a lot of mediocre shows (plus some with the potential to be good), here's one of the few truly awful ones, and it's only the second one out of the gate for the broadcast networks (the much more promising “Red Band Society” premieres an hour earlier). Maybe Bob Greenblatt felt he still owed Messing a favor for all the scarves she had to wear in “Smash” season 1?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org