Putting the “Oof” in Proof

Dr. Carolyn Tyler (Jennifer Beals) stares off to the distance on TNT's Proof.
Proof (Photo: TNT)

TNT’s Proof is the latest example of why we shake our heads and say “it’s a TV show, not a TV tell.” Come ON, show.

It is somewhat ironic that a show that is supposedly about determining the existential outcomes of a person after they die is still stuck in its own bout of soul-searching four episodes in. I don’t think Proof is trying to be meta in this scenario–it is not at all smart enough to attempt such a feat and other failures in the production point to a fundamental misunderstanding of how to properly execute an entertaining or thought-provoking hour of television.

First, the show still hasn’t figured out what story it wants to tell. Is it a family drama with overworked parents coping with a child’s death? Is it a medical procedural? Is it a meta-physical detective series? The answer to all three is “sorta?” with a heavy emphasis on that question mark. As with last week’s episode, the Patient of the Week’s existentialism is not actually in play.

A convicted felon–Randall Mason– is involved in a police shooting and almost dies on the table. While he was out, he had visions of his victims along with the victim of a completely separate and unrelated crime. It isn’t explained why this victim has wandered into Mason’s hellscape out-of-body experience, but this vision provided clues to not only discovering who the victim was, but where she was buried, and evidence to point to her actual killer. Although we get to see versions of the vision like it was the video from The Ring, all of this information is conveyed by Mason, Tyler, and the investigating cops telling us what happened. It turns out the girl in the vision wasn’t killed by Mason, but by her manager at the fast food restaurant where she worked. I’m not skipping any of the visual information: this paragraph is doing the exact same thing Proof did.

The family story involves Sophie wanting to go to a party at a club. Tyler says no, even though Sophie will be at her dad’s the weekend of the party. The parents later discover Sophie snuck out and they track her down at the club. She’s hanging out with some people outside the venue within a hundred yards of people smoking cigarettes. HEAVEN FORFEND. Sophie then makes a smart remark about how dad should drive instead of Tyler so that there isn’t another Will incident. In fairness, the instant-remorse for the remark is played well, even though Sophie’s flippant nature about her brother’s death throughout the series might be something worth exploring.

Later, dad tells Tyler Sophie will probably be hungover. First, why does alcohol even need to be a factor here? Second, if alcohol does need to be a factor, could it have been introduced in a less clumsy way? Sophie wasn’t drunk, no one said her breath smelled of alcohol, and she wasn’t horking. Again, show don’t tell.

All of the other supporting characters are in the episode, but they have little if anything to do with propelling the story forward. Zed is willing to believe what Mason says when he shares his visions and that’s about it. Papa Pope wants to discharge the felon ASAP because of the awkward PR, but that’s not much of a conflict point. Turing pops up because he was absent last week and suggests working with Peter Van Owen in deciphering Mason’s visions. Van Owen pretty much does the same regressive techniques as last week, although his style is more like a hypnotist show at a dinner theater. Janel offers some research on Mason’s rap sheet, but that’s her only contribution.

So what is Proof at this point? We have patients of the week, so that puts it in the medical procedural camp. There is a supernatural/clairvoyance element, which taps into Medium. Although Turing’s offer provided the motivation for Tyler’s work, his presence of the story hasn’t really added much, so we could probably lose him and Janel without much change to the overall narrative. Sophie doesn’t add much either, as her snottiness could easily be accomplished by the ex-husband had the divorce been much more bitter.

There are too many characters with not enough to do except for talking about what’s happening. Get it together, Proof.

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About Mike McComb 654 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv