Proven Innocent was described as a woman wrongly convicted, serves time, released, goes to law school, and now runs an Innocence Project-style office to help others like her that were wrongly convicted. Based on that description, and the other shows who have tread the same water before, I predicted CANCELLATION.
Lots of people in the TV industry keep trying to crack this nut — proving someone innocent. What most of them fail to realise is that normal lawyer shows only do one of two things: either they prove a person not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (with strong hinting they may be innocent) OR they prove someone else did it (the infamous SODDI defence — some other dude did it!). None of them try to prove innocence without those other two hooks, because it is almost impossible to prove a negative. Almost all innocence projects rely on one of two streams — the evidence against the person was too weak to sustain a conviction, particularly as key bits were problematic; or the person has an alibi in the form of a witness or DNA. Simply finding someone lied in the original case is not enough to prove innocence, it just gives grounds for a potential retrial. It may be enough for the prosecutor to NOT retry the case, and the person goes free, but they are rarely found “innocent”, not exactly. Usually because courts determine guilty or not guilty, not innocence.
Even DNA may not prove complete innocence. Take for instance cases involving a rape / murder. The cases are almost always linked as one case — a rape AND murder. And DNA might clear a person of the rape i.e. it wasn’t their DNA found inside the victim, so they are innocent of that. But it says NOTHING about a murder. Particularly if the person was shot, and there was no DNA transfer. So, the courts end up in a bind. A previous court (judge and/or jury) convicted somebody of two crimes, but the DNA only clears them of the one. Yet, it would strain the credulity of the cases for there to be two perpetrators — the person who committed the rape is also almost guaranteed to have committed the murder in that type of case. It is why Innocence Projects face such uphill challenges. Knock one domino down, the rest may stay standing even if they probably shouldn’t.
So after that digression, enter a show that says they are going to prove the innocence each week of someone, and get them out of jail. That is a pretty hefty toll for the writers — they first have to create a scenario where there was enough evidence to put someone in jail with means, motive and opportunity (just for a nice simple frame), and then slowly disprove COMPLETELY every element.
And in the very first episode, they cheat. They put their finger on the scale and make it that the reason the person was convicted while innocent is that there is a corrupt prosecutor, the same one that put the lead character in jail previously.
The show is, how should I put this? Ridiculous.
Let’s start with the lead character. Madeline Scott served ten years, from a fairly young age. Got a degree while in jail. Went to law school. She’s been through some stuff. And they show her at the beginning tough as nails, trying to get a DNA sample from someone who is evil and brutal, and with a few choice words, he commits suicide in front of her. She then collects the DNA sample she needs, and leaves the scene, “Not an emergency” she says to the 911 operator. Except after that, she’s basically a cream puff with one-liners. It is ALSO a minimum of 17 years later, and she is just starting to investigate the case she went to jail over, to find the real killer. Like it was a low-level to do list item and she suddenly has some free time to devote to it. Uh huh, cuz that seems convincing. And she’s starting to learn things right out of the gate from an old friend, and then her drug addict brother who was convicted with her. 17 years later and he tells her that he actually slept with the girl that got killed. Dun dun dun. A clue. Never came up previously though. And, he’s basically SUICIDAL on the phone, and she ignores his words and actions. WTF? Rachelle Lefevre plays the character, and while she has lots of history on her CV, I don’t know her. And I’m okay with that.
Her partner in the office, and the lawyer who helped her get out of jail, is a familiar face. Hank from Grimm, aka Russell Hornsby as Ezekial. I liked Hank on Grimm, but don’t have much use for him here. He comes off more sanctimonious, like he’s trying to be a preacher in places?
And the bad guy? The prosecutor, Gore Bellows, is played by Frasier (aka Kelsey Grammer). Kelsey’s fine, but he plays him as somewhat befuddled, the downhome easy-going guy just protecting the system from murderers who went free. Totally unbelievable on either level (folksy or evil), and not worth being an antagonist to give the show juice.
Now, let’s look at the first case. Well, two actually. The first goes free right away. The second is more challenging to find evidence, but it completely falls apart. Leaving people to wonder, WTF? It doesn’t take much to find the problems, eevn if it is (or seems to be) their only case. But on a related note, they are in a big giant office, lots of space, retro condo chic. Hardly the starving Innocent Project vibe. And there are 4 people — media/podcaster, the two lawyers, and an investigator who goes undercover on short notice. Whatever, anyway, they go to court, and the accused had been convicted (note CONVICTED, not on trial and easy to release) of murdering her kid in a fire. There’s a taped confession where she is clearly, and I mean CLEARLY, high on something, turns out it was carbon monoxide poisoning. Which messes with the means or opportunity. And someone falsified a statement against her that gave them motive. And they find out there was a bunch of fires at the same time years before from faulty Christmas lights. All of which gives an alternate explanation of the crime, and should justify a new trial. Instead, the judge declares her INNOCENT and releases her. Really? REALLY?
None of it is compelling, because I don’t get to see ANYONE who feels like they are in jeopardy who needs saving. I didn’t see enough of the clients to bond, I don’t get to SEE their case, only told about it (i.e., they show Madeline’s case through flashback, but they only tell us about the current cases). Which leaves only Madeline to care about, and she comes off more childish and petty than righteous crusader.
Hard pass. And I’ll stick with my prediction of CANCELLATION.