In "Dear Prudence," the Hallmark Channel's newest sleuth is an amalgamation of quirks. She's Martha Stewart in a pert red wig with bangs, speaking with the perky perfection of Julie Andrews's Mary Poppins, cultivating the uncanny instinct for crime-solving of Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher, and able to pour on the va-va-voom of Jessica Rabbit when she needs to get her way. Prudence is cartoonishly chipper and, I'm sorry to say, despite the title, not so dear.
"Dear Prudence," which airs tonight at 9, is the first in a series of Hallmark mystery movies starring Jane Seymour as the unlikely and oft-annoying heroine. Prudence is an obsessive, workaholic TV personality who specializes in handy household tips called "Pru Pointers." Her boss forces her to take a vacation in Wyoming, where she becomes entangled in a plot involving a tract of sacred Native American land. The death of a local man named J.R. has been ruled a suicide, but Prudence is sure it was murder. That's right - the endgame of "Dear Prudence" is to reveal who killed J.R.
Lighthearted mysteries can be engaging fun; the comic episodes of "The Closer" are proof of that. But "Dear Prudence" confuses lightheartedness with laziness. The plotting of this movie is shamelessly slack, and illogical, as Prudence and her young assistant, Nigel (Ryan Cartwright), stumble from one silly clue to the next. The solution to the movie's big mystery is so obvious from the get-go, you almost wonder if there's some kind of massive twist ahead that will finally excite interest. There isn't.
The small-town characters in "Dear Prudence" are quaint, as expected, including Sheriff Eddie Duncan, who watches Prudence pursue the case with condescending curiosity. Played by Jamey Sheridan, Eddie is forever laughing at Prudence - or wait, is that a romantic sparkle in his eye?
With her appearances as the predatory older woman in "The Wedding Crashers" and "How I Met Your Mother," Seymour has become a sort of poster lady for cougars in recent years. "Dear Prudence" capitalizes on that image, as Prudence finds excuses to kiss and flirt with the innocent Nigel. But Eddie is Prudence's true love interest, and Sheridan will probably reappear in future movies, when "Dear Prudence" comes out to play again.