Friday, March 1, 2024

REVIEW: 'Elsbeth' - Elsbeth Witnesses Her First Crime Scene and Immediately Pursues a Suspect in 'Pilot'

CBS' Elsbeth - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Elsbeth Tascioni is an astute but unconventional attorney who utilizes her singular point of view to make unique observations and corner brilliant criminals alongside the NYPD.

"Pilot" was written by Robert King & Michelle King and directed by Robert King

This series is the third to be set in The Good Wife universe. However, it's the first not to take place in Chicago. Instead, it's located where every series has been filmed so far - New York City. That allows the production to actually showcase the city for once. Moreover, Elsbeth Tascioni is the exact kind of person who would actually delight in the tourist trap activities. She wants to enjoy the sights that the city is known for. She accepted a job with the Justice Department. She is tasked with monitoring the Major Crimes unit of the NYPD as a result of a consent decree brought by the federal government. It's a serious assignment. One meant to look into corruption. This universe has told many nuanced and insightful stories about the most pressing issues of the day. The writers have tackled complex stories of race, politics and the law. Elsbeth has been a delight in her many appearances to date. However, she carries a new burden as the actual lead of a show. That's a different responsibility than simply being a colorful guest star.

Moreover, the show sets itself apart right away as being more of a procedural. That element has always been present in these series. The various episodes would tackle a legal case. Here though, the premiere starts by showcasing a murder. Alex Modarian kills the student he has been sleeping with because he fears she will go public with their affair. That will result in him getting cancelled. It's an open secret on campus that he has sex with the leading ladies of his plays. That's his reward. That's what is required in order to get cast in the best parts. It's all about who can catch his eye and hold it. He had already moved on by the time of the opening night of his latest production. Yet he feels the need to take this action. He drugs his victim by swapping out her pills. He then wraps a plastic bag around her head. He clones her phone so he can conveniently send texts to their shared friends when he's around. He believes he has committed the perfect crime. And then, Elsbeth comes to town ready to do the police work herself. 

This is a change of pace for Elsbeth. She has worked as a defense attorney for thirty years. Now, she details her disgust of having defended clients she knew were guilty. That provides her with a keen insight into human behavior. That was already prominent based on her peculiar worldview. She sees life differently than other people. That prowess has always served her well. Now, it means she gets tangled up in a new job. One where she seems driven by the investigative work instead of seeing how others handle the task. She is the only one willing to see this crime as a murder. It takes awhile for others to buy into her thinking. In fact, it's a reason to laugh when the federal agent sends Elsbeth in as the monitor. He is more than willing to swap her out for Cary Agos. That's a name drop meant to entice former fans of The Good Wife. This world is trying something different. So that connection is nice. Elsbeth has nothing but great things to say about Cary. This show isn't about him. Instead, it's the delicate balance of Elsbeth solving crimes when no one else is capable of seeing the clues like she can. That has proven to be a successful formula in many other series. Carrie Preston is a compelling lead. It just runs the risk of sanding off the edges of what makes this particular world and storytelling so effective in the past.

Change isn't necessarily a bad thing. I go into this new show with all the history of this character and what the writers have offered. Elsbeth has always been reliable for laughs. That energy is still present. She's also capable of facing off with a killer. In fact, Elsbeth and Alex are impressed by the worthy adversaries they unexpectedly find. It's a joy for them to see who will prevail. Alex frames his assistant to hopefully throw the investigation off of him. Elsbeth doesn't accept that story. She knows Alex is acting. It doesn't matter how good he is either. It's not real in her mind. She accepts that. She knows he is guilty of something. She just has to gather the prove. She knows how to collect the evidence. She has been a part of the criminal justice system for a long time. It's operations are embedded within those who have plenty of authority. Elsbeth seeks to switch that up. It's frightening to some. She also has a secret task of investigating Captain Wagner for corruption. She doesn't see that as possible. However, she doesn't spend a lot of time with him either. She is largely on the ground with beat cop Kaya Blanke by her side. That partnership works. Others are willing to admit when they are wrong about Elsbeth. However, she kept her true motives hidden. That's a keen ability of hers as well. The stakes are elevated simply because she now contends with killers who believe she threatens their freedom. She doesn't shy away or alter her tactics. She forges ahead because nothing can disrupt her rhythms of life.