09/30/2014 02:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Real Mystery Of 'Laura' Is Whether It's Worthy Of Debra Messing's Formidable Talent


"The Mysteries Of Laura" aired its pilot episode midway through September to a critical reaction best summed up by Vulture's Margaret Lyons: ""Mysteries of Laura' Is a Bad Show. It’s a Bad, Bad Show."

But why is it so bad? Messing is not just (deservedly) beloved for her time spent as Grace, but immensely talented -- though apparently no one was talented enough to save the tonally disconnected pilot episode of "Mysteries of Laura." As Mary McNamara suggested in her review of the show for The Los Angeles Times, Messing's strengths seem to be working against her in this role.

Messing is a master of screwball comedy. She's also wildly relatable in a way that mixes emotion with humor, a combination that would seem like it might be a good fit for a dramedy. The problem with "Mysteries of Laura," so far, is that the show's attempts at poignancy are only slightly less contrived than its one-liners. It's not that she can't handle both genres with dexterity --- the drama half of that is evidenced by her critically acclaimed role in "Outside Mullingar" -- it's that "The Mysteries Of Laura" just didn't figure out a way to hit that balance. "The most confusing aspect of 'The Mysteries Of Laura' is whether or not the show is self-aware enough to realize it’s generic to the point of absurdity," wrote Caroline Framke at The A.V. Club. This is a show with the following tagline: "I’m just a mother with a shiny badge, a loaded gun, and very little patience.”

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Of course, "Mysteries Of Laura" has many more issues to sort out beyond its implicit M.O. For one thing, as Framke wrote, there is a lot of the sort of "morally ambiguous behavior that 'House' thrived on." Except, Laura doesn't play as an intricately complex character so much as a confusingly bad mother.

We've barely been introduced to Laura by the time she is seen shooting a man in a hostage situation with no regard for risk. In that same episode, she blackmails a cheerleading coach to ensure her boys are enrolled in school and, later, drugs her children in order to get them to be quiet during an important interview.

"It's comedy," Messing said to HuffPost Entertainment when asked how these instances define the character. For the record, she has never drugged her son, but apparently tons of people have. "It was pretty amazing after the pilot aired how many people came to me and said that they had used cough medicine in an airplane to help their kids sleep through the flight," she said. "I was shocked, but I don’t judge it."

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It's a shaky explanation for drugging children and it definitely doesn't excuse the show's inability to define its characters beyond, as Lyons put it, "piles of index cards with ideas scrawled on them." So, how would Messing describe Laura?

"I think that she’s brilliant. Intellectually brilliant, and I think that she is always the person that everyone turns to at the most difficult moment of trying to solve a crime," Messing said. "She is a problem solver. She carries a pocketbook with her, that, you know, it’s like her toolbox. Everything and anything can be found in that bag that may help some situation that may be in the middle of a crime scene or in the car with the children. So, I think she’s resourceful."

And then, of course, we having the defining characteristics of wearing Spanx (which, by the way, was Messing's idea) and messy eating. She wouldn't call it that, though."It’s not so much that she’s messy," Messing said of the scenes where she is gobbling up a piece of cake at a crime scene and eating pea soup over a corpse. "It’s more that there is absolutely no time in her day for a proper meal."

It's possible that some of those moments are lost in the search for the dramedy balance. "This is not a typical genre and it’s on us to create a tone that can support both murder mystery and the seriousness of the crimes that are happening," she said. "It also has to be light enough and playful enough that the comedy makes sense. I think just like any other TV show, every episode we discover more and more about what works and what doesn’t work. We are now on our seventh episode; I certainly feel much more confident now about, you know, the voice of our show than I did on the pilot."



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