Kate Beckinsale has gotten more press lately for her steamy social media posts and who she’s been dating (coughPeteDavidsoncough) than her acting, even though she’s pretty darn good at her job. After a career of film roles, she’s been doing more TV lately; her newest series is a dark comedy, of all things, where she plays a disgraced journalist. Read on for more.
Opening Shot: A man is cooking eggs at a stove in a rundown kitchen. He hears a gun click behind his head. He says, “You better pull that trigger, or I’m gonna f–” He get shot, blood spurts everywhere, and his head falls in the hot pan, brains seeping out of the hole the bullet left behind.
The Gist: The same day that Beth Burgess (Kate Beckinsale) accepts a journalism award from the Colorado Journalist Association, she’s fired from her newspaper reporting job, accused of making up a quote in the story that won her the award.
One year later, Beth finds herself working at a website that’s not interested in her stories about Denver’s homeless or anything that’s serious; her young boss Amber Quayle (Madeleine Arthur) would rather write about the anniversary of Harry Potter and the stars’ “hot looks” than anything with any depth.
There’s other things on Beth’s plate, though; when she’s at her niece’s birthday party, the little girl asks Beth and her husband Marco (Geoff Stults) when they’re going to have kids. Beth, acting more like a journalist than an aunt, tells her that sometimes couples can’t have kids. After the party, Marco, a National Parks ranger, tells Beth that a position is open at Grand Teton National Park; he thinks a move to Wyoming would be a way for them to get out of the city and get a fresh start.
Beth isn’t quite ready to let go of Denver just yet, especially because she’s trying to rebuild her reputation after being accused of making up that quote. After getting rebuffed by Amber once again for building on the Harry Potter idea that her colleague Fiona (Tiya Sircar) proposed, Amber wonders if it’s time for Beth to find another line of work.
She then gets a letter from Toni Plimpton (Jules Latimer), an inmate at the woman’s maximum security penitentiary. It’s very complimentary to her work; it even says she’s a “genius.” Toni wants to meet with her to see if she can write about the fact that she’s serving a near-life sentence for killing her husband Wallace a year ago, a crime she says she didn’t commit. Fiona remembers the name; Toni was accused of trying to cut off her husband’s penis a few days before he died.
When she visits Toni in prison, Toni is still amazed that people connect her act of trying to cut off Wallace’s dick to his murder, when Wallace and his brother Wyatt (Andre Hyland) were running guns together. But when Beth asks questions that tell Toni she didn’t do her research, Toni ends the visit. When Beth sees another reporter waiting to “audition” for Toni, she decides to run with the story on her own.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? If Sharp Objects were redone as a dark comedy, it would be Guilty Party.
Our Take: You know when we start off a review saying that a show has a lot of good qualities that it’s going to be followed by a lot of caveats. Well, Guilty Party is one of those shows. It’s got a lot of great qualities, but we’re not sure if these qualities add up to an overall good show.
For instance, Beckinsale gives Beth a desperate, breathy quality that makes her character enjoyable to watch as she stumbles around trying to recapture the glory she once had in her journalism career. But the character, as written by showrunner Rebecca Addelman (Dead To Me), is largely amorphous at the start. We don’t know much about the award-winning career she had before her downfall, or why someone would accuse her of making up a quote. Perhaps some of that may become apparent as the story continues, but by the end of the first episode we have no idea whether Beth is even a good journalist, much less rooting for her redemption.
There also doesn’t seem to be a reason why she’s working at this frothy website except to be used as a vehicle to make her miserable. If the site is about bubbly celebrity listicles, why would they hire a disgraced hard journalist who keeps pitching them stories that aren’t a good fit? It’s the umpteenth case of a showrunner seemingly having no idea about how journalism works, or how people actually make a living in media.
Stults, so good in shows like Enlisted, feels like he’s getting the short end of the story stick here as Marco. He’s supportive of Beth, but thinks they need that fresh start. He even thinks they can start a family. There’s a dynamic in their marriage that’s not being explored, and we get the feeling it won’t be as Beth gets more embroiled in Toni’s case.
Toni’s case is where the story will likely shine, but by the time it gets going, will we care enough about Toni or Beth or anyone else to pay attention?
Sex and Skin: None, at least in the first episode.
Parting Shot: Going on her own, Beth knocks on Wyatt’s door and says hello when he opens it.
Sleeper Star: We do hope Jules Latimer gets more to do as Toni. And we’re fans of Tiya Sircar going back to The Good Place, so we hope we see more of her, as well.
Most Pilot-y Line: We know Beckinsale has done an American accent many times, but we would have been happier to hear Beth sport Beckinsale’s native British accent more than the voice she uses for the role.
Our Call: SKIP IT. While we like Beckinsale’s performance in Guilty Party, the show doesn’t seem to have enough story elements to really make us latch onto Beth or her quest to get her career back.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.