Picks and Pans Review: Murder Ordained
A true story: In a Kansas town, a pastor covets his parishioner's pretty body and they become lovers. They conspire to kill her husband and he kills his wife. So you thought Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker sizzled with scandal? Not to be a magazine name-dropper, but I first read about this murderous affair in The New Yorker, in a piece by Calvin (American Fried) Trillin. I told myself this would make a great movie. But great, this miniseries ain't. It's a simple problem of suspense. At the start, you see the pastor's wife dead in what looks like an accident. You see Keith Carradine as a state trooper find reasons to think it was murder. Then you see the mourning pastor, Chicago stage actor Terry Kinney, holding hands with his lover, JoBeth (Poltergeist) Williams. Now you're smarter than the cops who took months to figure out the case for themselves. You don't get to solve the mystery—and that's the only fun of watching murder on TV. Williams, Carradine and especially Kinney do fine jobs filling in their characters where the script doesn't. There are amazing scenes, like the pastor giving himself and his lover communion and absolution after their deeds are done. This is still a great story. But that's not enough. It needs a great storyteller.
MASTERPIECE THEATRE: DEATH OF THE HEART
PBS (Sun., May 3, 9 p.m. ET)
On a day too long, your TV critic finally had his fill. He started talking to his TV. Shouting. Screeching. "Oh, just shut up, you Brit twits!" He was suffering through two hours of an English import, a show adapted from a novel by Elizabeth Bowen. Jojo Cole plays a 16-year-old orphan, the child of an affair, who lives with her half brother, Nigel (A Passage to India) Havers, and his snooty, snitty wife, Patricia (Betrayal) Hodge. The kid falls in love with one of Hodge's dandy male pals and then she gets dumped. The critic cringed when he saw the director trying to be profound, focusing the camera forever on red fingernails strumming a shiny tabletop. The critic covered his eyes when the director tried to be not only profound but also symbolic and grisly, showing a dog eating a dead bird on the beach. The critic covered his ears when the girl uttered smarmy idiocy like, "You and I are the first people who've ever been us." But the critic lost it when Hodge, Havers and a friend made endless, obtuse small talk about whether they should have dinner, saying things like, "I mean, what are we meaning to do?" The critic's doctors report he is resting comfortably and should be allowed to have his TV back in a week.