A few years ago, a magazine asked me to write a story about working moms on TV. It was a struggle to find enough characters to fill out a measly listicle — after Alicia Florrick and a handful of doctors on Grey’s Anatomy, there weren’t very many characters to chose from. Given that about 71 percent of mothers work outside the home, this kind of underrepresentation is frustrating and a little demoralizing. So the idea of a show like The Mysteries of Laura, about a working mom juggling the demands of being a New York City homicide detective and the demands of raising two maybe-special-needs kids, appeals to me. But good lord, does the show fail in its execution. The mystery is bad, the police work is bad, the home-life stories are bad, everything is bad. This is a bad, bad show.
Debra Messing stars as Laura, a miserable human who abuses her police power by intimidating random preschool teachers. She loves product-placing Target, and even though she lives in Manhattan, it seems very, very unlikely that she lives anywhere near Harlem or 117th Street. I resent integrated advertising in general, but it’s truly egregious here. She and her dope of a cop husband (Josh Lucas) haven’t divorced because he won’t sign the papers, even though in New York State you can get a divorce without the other party signing anything by filing for a default divorce. She shoots a suspect in the ear, which is presented as a demonstration of marksmanship rather than an egregiously dangerous disregard for risk. She loudly eats at inopportune moments. Her preschool-age children chronically engage in scat play, which is both really gross and sometimes a sign of pretty serious turmoil.
There’s also a murder mystery, not that it’s at all interesting.
In order for me to be invested in a show in any way, I need characters with some kind of internal integrity — not that they behave well, or morally, even, but that they see themselves as a coherent entity. They have a self. No one has a self (yet) on Mysteries of Laura; instead of characters, the show is populated by piles of index cards with ideas scrawled on them. “Black cop” “nice” “muscles” is one. “Assistant” “gay?” “dweeb” is another. “Tank top” “annoyed” “a lady” is the third. And yes, character integrity is absolutely something that can be achieved in a pilot. Hell, it can be achieved in a single scene.
Laura’s main character trait is that she’s frazzled, and that’s not really enough to hang a show on; wearing Spanx and having a messy car does not a full character make. She keeps momming things up at work, accidentally leaving juice boxes around the precinct and all! Classic mom. Aren’t moms always just momming everything with their momness? I’m like, Mom!
I am super down for a lighthearted, anti-gritty cop show. These are called “USA shows,” and I enjoy several of them. If Laura wants to push toward more of a Murder, She Wrote vibe, I am all for it. But NBC only made one episode of the show available for critics, and that one episode isn’t funny enough to be a funny show, nor is it grounded enough to be a serious show. This show is so underdeveloped, it makes me miss Smash.