‘Close to Home,’ closer than you think
Prosecuting the evil-doer who lives next door
October 3, 2005
Television crime dramas typically offer up the rarest and most luridly sensational acts of malevolence, and audiences watch them for their involving and often grisly melodrama.
It’s a staple of primetime, and no wonder. In their great brutality, these series offer viewers a comfort of sorts, and it is the great distance between the worlds they are peaking into, typically some nasty corner of an urban nightmare, and their own communities.
“Close to Home, which debuts tonight at 10 on CBS, explores a very different world of crime, the crimes of the neighborhood, or down the street or over in the next town, among people much like ourselves, ordinary folks in one sense who own houses, drive nice cars and have respectable jobs. “Home” is about the people next door whose crimes rarely make the talk and news shows, the secret spouse and child abusers who one sees every day.
The challenge for “Home” is raising these stories to a level of engaging drama without the devices and extreme characters of a CSI or Cold Case or Law and Order,” whackos and bizarros whose behavior often serves to obscure weaknesses in the script or plot development.
But the potential of “Home” is also much greater, the opportunity for a far more chilling, thought-provoking impact. That it’s a series from Jerry Bruckheimer is all the more ironic, as he’s the producer behind CSI, Cold Case and Without a Trace.
“Home” is set in Indianapolis, a city that’s perceived as one of America’s most comfortable and safe. Though it’s a big city, it holds dear the values of the heartland. The series’ stories focus on one suburban neighborhood, where boys on bicycles deliver newspapers to attractive white-frame homes as young moms attend to their babies inside.
What makes “Home” work is Jennifer Finnigan (formerly of Committed), who plays one of those moms, Annabeth Chase, a local prosecutor who is returning to work from maternity leave, complete with a bottle of her own breast milk. She’s conflicted, anxious to return to work, ready to take charge, but she also dearly rues leaving her baby behind.
Finnigan gives real dimension to Chase, through the strong, if at times overwrought, writing and her ability to capture, in ways viewers can identify with, Chase’s deeply felt struggle between her two worlds, both of which she is fiercely passionately about.
In one scene after a cell-phone conversation with her husband, Chase is in the women’s rest room when she breaks into tears. The separation from her newborn is tearing at her. Just then her supervisor, Maureen (Kimberly Elise) emerges from a stall. Chase reclaims her composure. She’s suddenly above it, back in charge, a professional.
When Maureen later confronts Chase for letting her motherly impulses affect her judgment, she shouts back: I made a choice to have a family. You made a choice to make your career your family. I don’t judge you, don’t you dare judge me.
Lord knows, the storyline of working moms and their issues has been hammered to death in primetime for years. A lesser actor would make the conflict seem forced by over-acting. Yet Finnigan succeeds at bringing some vibrancy to it.
In tonight’s debut, Chase is given a case from within her own neighborhood, a mother arrested for trying to burn down her home and kill herself and her two children. Annabeth’s boss (John Carroll Lynch) believes she’ll connect with the case viscerally, as if protecting her own family and neighbors from a threat. And she does. Nobody has the right to do this with her kids, she pronounces.
But as Chase conducts her interviews with witnesses, she discovers there’s something far more insidious at work with this case. The woman’s husband is a chronic abuser who keeps the family battered and locked inside. But they’re afraid to testify against him. Chase then fights her superiors over their rush to throw the book at the young mother.
Ultimately, the challenge for “Close to Home will be where it goes next. And next. And next. The risk is that it will attempt to further exploit the stressed-out working mom cliche at the expense of the crime-solving and prosecuting work. At the least it would be a waste of Finnigan’s talent, as well as a promising premise.
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