You’ll like it if you already like: Cold Case, Conviction…
Likely timeslot: Sunday at 9
Higher Ground may be one of the least buzzy drama pilot this season, if not THE least buzzy, despite the fact that it was being informally described as The Good Wife meets Homicide at the time it was sold to CBS after a bidding war with another network. The description doesn’t fit with what I read. Plus; there’s definitely something about the cast that isn’t working. I like Sharon Leal, she’s a very capable actress, but chosing her for a leading role must not be the best idea CBS had. I guess they weren’t left with many choices though. It requires a black actress in her late thirties, which is one of the most sought-after profile these days. Of course, she needed to be available AND it’s better if the audience is already familiar with her. Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose & Gabrielle Union, among the most recognizable faces, were already taken. It’s sad. For once, CBS really seemed to be trying to be less white males but they are a little late to the party I guess. But who knows? Maybe it’ll be the surprising pick-up of the year!
Anyway, Higher Ground concerns me for two other main reasons apart from the cast: it’s not that good -they have at least four better options- and it doesn’t really look like something people would want to watch for years. Taking a look at a US Hate Crimes Unit can’t be more timely, the effort is deeply appreciated in those troubled times when hate is thriving all over the world. But does it make an innovative TV show? Short answer: not at all. The investigators have two parallel goals: determine whether the case is really a hate crime or something else -in the pilot it’s about a girl who apparently commited suicide, unless she was pushed…- and of course, solve it! So it starts with a different angle than other procedural shows but the methods of investigation are more or less the same -or they feel the same- and the more you get closer to the resolution the less it feels unique. It’s very comparable to ABC’s failed Conviction. The “reopening old cases to make sure the guilty person is really guilty” angle felt fresh somehow but the execution and the pacing felt old-fashioned.
What doesn’t help is the fact that most of the characters are bland and our heroine, Naomi, is just an Olivia Pope wannabe. Oh, like Conviction‘s leading lady! So many common points… She’s a nice gal, her personal story is original and quite creepy -she litteraly ate her twin sister in her mother’s belly- and she’s sleeping with the wrong person. Fear not, it’s not the President of the United States this time! It’s Manhattan South District Attorney. Their relationship is more irritating than anything else. Naomi has a sister -one she didn’t eat- and there’s clearly something wrong with her but we just don’t know yet why and nothing is done so we can care about it. We’re given next to zero elements to elaborate a theory or something. The investigators around all have their very precise, usual roles: the new one who needs to be explained everything, so the viewer catches up at the same time; the funny one; the awkward one; the asshole one… You get the picture.
Higher Ground is DOA to me. Dead On Arrival. It’s tired, unambitious and unneccessary. CBS had a pilot on the same theme a few years ago, For Justice, starring Anika Noni Rose and directed by Ava DuVernay. It was not perfect but way better. They made a mistake not picking it up at the time. This uninspired version can’t make up for it.