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The CW's Coroner Lacks Edge of Something New

When it comes to television procedurals, some basic tendencies must be accepted. The biggest being: a medical or science professional usually acts beyond the scope of their job. The CW’s newest series, “Coroner,” takes the habit to the extreme. Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan), a former emergency room doctor turned coroner, teams with Toronto detectives to solve weekly murder mysteries. Recently widowed after her husband suffered a deadly heart attack, she struggles through anxiety in her pursuit for the truth, and as a single mother, raises her son Ross (Ehren Kassam). While the series’ exploration of mental health is a powerful draw, the 42-minute episodes of “Coroner” follow the familiar tracks of most crime and medical procedurals, and the solved cases never progress beyond the melodramatic. 

In “Coroner,” the pixie-cut Cooper partners with detective Donovan McAvoy (Roger Cross) to investigate suspicious deaths. In their first assignment together, the premiere “Black Dog,” they come upon two supposed suicides in a juvenile detention center. The deceased teens were supposed to participate in a performance of Romeo and Juliet, but the symbolism of their joint deaths feels too convenient to Cooper. During the second episode, “The Bunny,” the pair are called to a luxury high-rise where a dead man lies naked on his bathroom floor, his body bloodied by his killer gouging him with shards of glass. 

The fiery Cooper and the calm, cool McAvoy share a perfectly balanced chemistry. When McAvoy comes upon Cooper crying in her car, as a lark, he sings during their drive together to calm her. McAvoy also allows for Cooper’s quirks (when coming upon a dead body she gently places her hand on the deceased’s head and whispers a prayer). Conversely, when a witness openly flirts with McAvoy, Cooper jokingly chides him for reciprocating. 

The pair’s cases are neither convoluted nor interesting. Instead, the overly simplistic mysteries exist in the background to Cooper’s rocky personal life. Still reeling from the death of her husband, her house is up for foreclosure, and her son is close to discovering some ugly truths about his dad. When called to investigate the death of an old woman, she crosses paths with a new romantic partner in Liam (Eric Bruneau), a landscaper to the deceased woman, and an Iraq war veteran living in a treehouse. 

Both Liam and Cooper suffer from some form of mental illness, the show’s most prevalent theme. Addled with PTSD, when Cooper asks Liam what he did during the war, he bluntly answers, “I killed people.” Meanwhile Cooper regularly visits a psychiatrist, Dr. Sharma (Saad Siddiqui), and copes with her anxiety by popping anti-anxiety pills. Demonstrating an incredible aptitude for her job through her perceptive instincts, her medicine presents the only option for her to thrive. “Coroner” goes one step further than “House” by actualizing her anxiety. Cooper often sees visions of a black dog when around dead people. Winston Churchill often referred to his depression as the “black dog,” and one might surmise the visual reference springs from him. Swan delicately presents Cooper’s moments of near-crippling worry, whether by the hesitancy she displays when walking into a crime scene or her anger when someone subverts the truth. 

Even so, “Coroner” treads familiar ground—modern electronic music decorates any mundane acts the characters perform, and the lighting is too on-the-nose. Series like “CSI,” “NCIS,” “The Mentalist,” “Criminal Minds,” and “Bones” have completely done away with the definition of “specialist” and imbued their characters with far more crime fighting latitude than their professions denote, but a coroner ostensibly acting as a lead detective requires a high suspension of disbelief. If one gets past that hurdle, The CW’s “Coroner” offers just enough cheap procedural drama with some thoughtful mental health study.  

Two episodes screened for review.

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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