Death and Other Details

Death and Other Details
Death and Other Details
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Only Murders in the Building, Death on the Nile, Knives Out, After Party, and The White Lotus crowd themselves onto a luxury cruise ship in Death and Other Details. This star-studded murder mystery boasts some clever plot twists and a big lifesaver that keeps it from sinking like the Titanic: Mandy Patinkin. The Homeland alum and Emmy winner for Chicago Hope saves this show on its perilous (and, ahem, derivative) high seas journey where wealthy elites frolic among each other — and get murdered. It’s yet another story about how the fabulously rich have power over everyone else, and very few people are willing to fight for justice.

Chief among them is Detective Rufus Cotesworth (Patinkin) and his reluctant protégé Imogene (Violett Beane). The lively young woman isn’t reluctant to help Cotesworth solve the murder aboard the cruise ship because she’s creeped out. It has more to do with the fact that she’s still mourning her mother’s violent death 18 years ago — “and I blame you for screwing up that investigation,” she tells him.

The setup of Death and Other Details’ early episodes are intriguing with their novel storytelling approach — they make viewers really look at what they’re seeing — but this promising caper becomes a little overstuffed by its second half. It doesn’t help that there are only a handful of likable characters; those who are way off the likability charts don’t have enough spark to make you care whether or not they find redemption. And ultimately, it just doesn’t keep enough fuel in its tank to stay afloat.

But with Patinkin’s elan — and an accent! — plus showrunners Mike Weiss (The Mentalist, Chicago P.D.) and Heidi Cole McAdams at the helm, there’s no need to throw this one overboard into the seawater. You’ve seen this kind of mystery before. Better, even. But there’s some good stuff in here, so let’s dive deeper.

We live in uncertain times and the entertainment industry is feeling it. Last year superhero movies went into a coma, and nobody quite knows how to administer proper CPR on them yet — but after Knives Out became such a sensation, murder mysteries became all the rage, too, though several years later the genre is strained. And with The Hollywood Reporter just recently writing that Sopranos creator David Chase believes “something is dying” about quality on the streaming front, the push for more inventive content has never been greater.

Death and Other Details does get points for being creative in some areas — but then overuses them. What starts out as fun and inventive storytelling in this comedy thriller (what happened two days ago … one hour earlier … two years ago … two days ago again) becomes cumbersome by later episodes when the showrunners seem to be sprinting to tie everything together. And nearly every cast member gets an opportunity to chew up scenery while they’re at it.

Lauren Patten stars as Anna Collier — a hard-nosed overachiever who’s about to be named her family empire, Collier Mills’ successor. Jack Cutmore-Scott (Frasier) plays her man-child drunken brother, Tripp. Linda Emond (Only Murders in the Building) is accent-heavy, by-the-book agent Hilde Eriksen, who comes aboard after the murder of Tripp’s associate Keith Trubitsky, played by Michael Gladis (Mad Men). Jere Burns’ Llewellyn Mathers is the family’s attorney — he’s way into BDSM, so there’s that. Characters who really shine are Pardis Saremi’s Leila, Anna’s troubled wife and Lisa Lu’s Celia Chun — a family matriarch toting her own secrets.

Elsewhere, a billion-dollar deal is supposed to go through … which is why patriarch Lawrence Collier (David Marshall Grant) has boarded the ship — hoping to charm the Chun Family whose hip fashion empire would be a stellar acquisition. Throw in some crew-to-crew and below-the-deck storylines … a hottie who may not be who you think he claims to be (Hugo Diego Garcia’s Jules), plenty of sex … even more unanswered questions … and well that’s a lot. Watching it unravel is at best intriguing enough to keep pulling you in. At its worst? It’s all too confusing.

Meanwhile, it seems like this whole thing rests on Patinkin … who rarely misses a beat as stalwart Detective Cotesworth aka “the world’s greatest detective.” But even that becomes questionable as things roll on… He gives the story an equally worthy narrator too. “I haven’t been fully honest with you,” his voiceover occasionally chimes in … adding allure. We’ll often be told to “pay attention.” It does the trick but by episodes six and seven, the storyline becomes even more complicated. Still, best to experience that and decide for yourself.

Violett Beane (God Friended Me, TV’s The Flash) holds her own here. The actress is given a lot to work with and manages to balance the broad range of emotions Imogene goes through. When it becomes apparent that an ominous mystery figure is mastering a more complex chess game … Imogene will stop at nothing to revisit — and solve — her mother’s murder. Beane is a powerful force throughout and the series delivers a nice touch by inserting adult Imogene into the flashbacks as a better way for her to “pay attention,” as Detective Cotesworth would say.

Certainly Death and Other Details is ambitious in how it wants to present its mysteries … however, it could use more time. Or in this case … more careful plotting … so this can become a truly winning tale. But hey, if you’re a fan of Knives Out or The White Lotus — Death and Other Details will satisfy that particular craving, so no harm done here either way.

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