Thursday, January 10, 2013

Deception: Pilot (1.1)

A murder mystery is probably the easiest hook in terms of plotting. You've got the body, even better when said body lived a life that was all kinds of shady, a scattering of vaguely intense and mysterious murder suspects, an abundance of potential motives, and voila! Instant audience bait. Deception breaks zero new ground when it comes to its central murder mystery, but the inherent intrigue of the format at least makes this pilot episode somewhat engrossing, enough at least to distract from the red flags everywhere else.

Deception sees Meagan Good's hottie cop infiltrating a fancy-pants San Francisco-based dynasty to investigate the mysterious death of their eldest daughter, her one-time best friend when her mother worked as the family's housekeeper. Good's casting, finally capitalizing on the shiny charisma she's brought to the biz for what feels like a century, adds an undercurrent of socioeconomic/racial intrigue to proceedings -- something this episode ignores but which should prove fruitful in the future if the PTB have any balls. Because it's sort of the one area of distinction here. Deception does little with its premise, the one revelation with bite being that the murdered girl's sister is actually her daughter, but that's still something pretty familiar to any casual Aaron Spelling fan.

You can sort of see the reasoning behind the lack of racial awareness, primarily because actually addressing it could go against the whole 'colorblind' thing series creator Liz Heldens has spoken about, but it seems like a waste to ignore the one thing setting Deception apart from the various 'high society' soaps that came before it, as well as the show airing just one night earlier on a rival network. Here we have a strong black woman descended from hired help, who once found herself crossing class barriers enough to have a teenage romance with a rich white boy, something that surely would have ruffled somebody's feathers. But Deception chooses to bypass any of that potential, resulting in a show that feels guarded and withdrawn, relying on familiar tricks instead of pushing forward.

Those familiar tricks aren't fresh, of course, but their familiarity to us at home unsurprisingly breeds successful intrigue. Sex tapes, love triangles and shrieky conflict are all present and correct, performed with game conviction by an enjoyable cast: the wonderful Victor Garber appropriately shifty as the family patriarch, Tate Donovan sleazy and ambiguous, along with a show-stealing performance from a newbie named Ella Rae Peck, who grants her 'whiny kid sister' character a ton more levels than were probably on the page. Only Katherine LaNasa sinks the ensemble, wildly overplaying her boozing wife role until it resembles iffy community theatre.

But maybe LaNasa will turn out to be Deception's secret weapon. It's a series that so far appears to have all of its cards out on the table, from the workplace drama to the various 'issues' plaguing each member of the ensemble (Alcoholic? Check! Cokehead? Check!), but seems crying out for something at all radical. They could make race a factor, or instead take the easier option and have the cast follow LaNasa's lead in the campy, set-fire-to-any-shred-of-legitimacy stakes, at least making things a little perky in the process. Regardless, I'll probably stick around for a while, anyway. Murder mysteries tend to do that. C

Writer Liz Heldens Director Peter Horton

1 comment:

  1. Funny, I thought Ella Peck was horrible, grating and cliche while Katherine LaNasa was the vampy standout!