boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
Television Review

Spike's 'Murder' puts gross in engrossing

Veteran Texas homicide detective Tommy Le Noir hosts 'Murder.' Veteran Texas homicide detective Tommy Le Noir hosts "Murder." (Joao canziani/spike tv)

In "Murder," Spike TV's strangely engrossing new reality series, everything seems to be dripping in blood; the titles, the walls, and at one point, the contestants, as they get a vivid demonstration of what happens when a bullet hits a skull. True, the skull is played here by a hollowed-out watermelon, filled with dark red liquid. But the message remains: Homicide detectives deal in gory stuff.

It's unclear whether that gore, in itself, is the reason forensic shows have spread like kudzu on TV -- or whether it's the twisted fun of armchair detective work. With "Murder," which premieres tonight at 10, Spike hedges its bets by showing both. We're introduced to two teams of make-believe detectives, sent to "investigate" a homicide that has already been solved. They walk through re-creations of the crime scene, sift through the physical evidence, watch tapes of the interrogations, and are asked to solve the murders in 48 hours.

This takes impressive preparation on the part of the producers. In tonight's premiere, the crime scene -- a suburban bedroom where a husband and wife have been shot -- is meticulously staged, down to the tiniest splatters of body parts and blood. It's presumably fake, but looks disturbingly real.

The contestants are horrified, but also determined; whether they're aspiring investigators or true-crime junkies, they take on the demeanor of those jaded TV cops. "You watch the cases on TV and everything seems so obvious to you," says Jason, a firefighter whose crime-solving instincts will soon be called into question.

Producers here are betting that TV inspires false confidence, and the contestants on "Murder" prove the point nicely. One team wanders through the crime scene for more than 20 minutes before coming across the bodies; they're too busy marking and categorizing fibers from the rug. Another contestant, a swaggering firefighter named Adam, keeps steering his team astray by declaring unfounded hunches.

Host Tommy Le Noir, a veteran Texas homicide detective, has to offer instruction in the basics: wear gloves when handling evidence, try not to step in the blood. He dispenses advice in deadpan and a cop's bureaucratese. "Is there a reason that we cannot find an alternate light source?" he says at the crime scene, flicking a switch on the wall so the faux detectives can actually see.

Tonight's case is relatively simple (though it seems likely that most murder cases are). There are only three suspects, with varied degrees of motive, and the evidence leads in a clear direction. But it still offers a chance to challenge neophyte assumptions, offer lessons in ballistics, and prove that detective work is undeniably compelling.

But Spike seems to believe that the crime-solving spirit requires a certain amount of bloodlust, too. If "CSI" hints at the gruesome stuff and moves on quickly to the microscope work, "Murder" focuses on gore with almost pornographic glee. Tonight, before and after the watermelon scene, the camera keeps settling on a realistic model of a woman's torn-apart skull. It's not an image that's easy to get out of your head. Which makes you wonder if solving murders -- or even watching them get solved -- is so appealing, after all.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to viewerdiscretion.net.

'Related'

Murder

On: Spike

When: Tonight at 10

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES