Give the Lifetime cable network a "hmmmm," an "ugh!" and a "ho-hum" for its first night out as an original series, prime-time network.
The basic cable service that is styled with the female audience uppermost in mind is launching its first trio of original shows, beginning at 9 tonight: "Confessions of Crime," "The Hidden Room" (at 9:30) and "Veronica Clare" (at 10).
It may be hard for a manly reviewer to know these things, but only the last of the three seems much worth anybody's effort, male or female. Here are capsule reviews:
* "Veronica Clare" is the "hmmmm." At least it has the look of something different -- or rather, something familiar but with a twist. It's the 1940s detective film noir, but here the wry narrator/shamus is a she.
As Veronica, Canadian actress Laura Robinson wears ruby red lipstick and sweeping shoulder-length auburn hair. She looks, strangely enough, like the stylishly animated Jessica, wife of Roger on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." She even sounds something like Kathleen Turner (who supplied Jessica's sexy voice).
And like Bogie as Sam Spade, Veronica is stingy with the gab but smolders with meaningful looks and an icy submerged passion -- or at least she is supposed to, in the show's somewhat self-conscious style.
Veronica is a partner with a shady guy (Robert Beltran) in running a swanky supper club, has a good friend on the police force who is not so secretly smitten with her (Tony Plana), and a best girl friend/confidante (Christina Pickles, who was the head nurse on "St. Elsewhere").
She drives a Mercedes convertible and does her investigating on the side, all the time talking in the voice-over like this: "Sometimes if you're under the wrong star, you pay a high price for trying to do the right thing."
OK, it's hardly believable. But in the heat of the summer, the cool "Veronica Clare" is at least worth a look.
* By contrast, "Confessions of Crime" is just plain creepy-crawly awful, the latest development of the re-enactment genre of "reality programming" such as "America's Most Wanted," "Unsolved Mysteries" and "Rescue 911."
The cynical gimmick here is twofold: The host is actress Theresa Saldana and the focus is on crimes against and/or involving women.
Why cynical? Saldana (who was in "Raging Bull") is best known for having been the victim of a vicious stabbing attack some nine years ago. Her convicted and jailed perpetrator, still making threats, has been up for parole and she has been prominent in arguing against his release. ("Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story" was a recent TV movie about the case and the organization she has founded to support victims' rights.)
And in tonight's opener, a stony-faced Saldana alludes to her case in asserting "Confessions of Crime" is aimed at exploring the motivations for crime in hopes of learning something about prevention. "Could that knowledge have prevented what happened to me?" she asks.
In fact, the show seems designed merely to titillate by invading privacy (including Saldana's). We see slow-motion, soft-focus re-enactments of not only crime but the early childhood of the program's focus -- in this case a woman who killed her abusive husband with a butcher knife.
The series also is promoted as offering actual videotapes of police interrogations and, sure enough, we see tonight's subject breaking down and screaming, "Oh God, what did I do?"
As noted before: Ugh!
* "Hidden Room" is billed as a weekly half-hour anthology show of "suspenseful tales of women struggling with their deepest fears, secrets and desires."
Turns out, though, that the initial drama (with Alice Krige) is just ho-hum, a confusing piece about a woman who can't get over the miscarriage of her first child and is becoming estranged from her husband -- until she meets a mystery little boy in her dreams.
5) Maybe future shows will deliver more.