Crime dramas where a female medical examiner solves the murder have become a successful blueprint in Hollywood. And I’ve pretty much watched them all.
Coroner, based on a series of novels by M R Hall, joins the stable with a bit of an incongruous start as the storyline crammed too many threads in one go.
It started with Serinda Swan (Inhumans, Graceland, Breakout Kings and Ballers fame), as Jenny Cooper. Still grieving over the passing of her husband (while putting on a brave front for their teenage son), she rocks the boat (in a good way) at her new job as a coroner. She used to be an E.R. doctor.
Given the title of the show, very little time is spent on the autopsy, though, as Cooper is often out accompanying Detective Taylor Kim. And that works against the show.
While Cooper helps solve the case, the journey is shadowed by her personal struggles and pent up anger over her late husband leaving them in debt. Then there is the recurring appearance of a black dog.
On agreeing to the role, Swan explains: “I think what appealed to me the most was her humanity and the way they showed her story. They weren’t afraid to dive into this complex character. And that’s something that I worked on a lot with the creators.
“I think the main goal for me going in was to make sure that she seemed so grounded in reality, even in a reality where a dog pops up out of nowhere. But to really make sure that she was relatable, on so many levels. And not to just show her as her profession, and not to just show her as a mother, and not to just show her as a widow. But to show her as Jenny, who happens to be all of those things.
“For me, it was about this ever-changing human, who is just trying to find her footing after having the rug pulled from under her, and what that journey looks like, and how they do it in a very un-stereotypical way.”
Coroner isn’t a stylized series. Don’t expect to find a fashionable Dr Megan Hunt or Dr Maura Isles in Cooper.
She is practical with her short haircut. And her wardrobe mostly comprises jeans and tops. There’s no fancy make-up either.
To help prep for the role, the actress met with a pathologist and viewed an autopsy.
“I needed to see this because I also needed to hold onto that ‘beginner’s reaction’ as this is all new for my character Jenny. It was figuring out a balance between her experience, my experience and the professional experience. So I did a lot of prep, and I am hoping it all paid off so that people in the profession can watch it and think I get close to what they do.”
As Cooper works on ensuring the dead get their justice, she also works through her emotional stumbling blocks.
This season is laden with interesting cases, too.
“During this season, you really get to see Jenny do a deep dive, not only to pre-existing cases but also the reopening of old cases which were under question.
“With Jenny, at the end of episode four, you see her take a stand and say, ‘I don’t care if you don’t like me, but I am going to do this’. I am going to reopen these old cases and make sure that we find out the truth.”
“She is saying, ‘I don’t care if I like myself but I am going to figure out the truth around why I am missing two months out of my life, why I don’t remember what happened to my sister’. In reality, her sister died when she was six years old, Jenny then became mute for two months and then when she came out of this trance she didn’t remember anything that happened to her sister or ever speak about it again.”
Where the writers fell short with episode one, they redeem themselves with a more well-paced plot in the second episode. And the dog becomes a sort of Pandora’s Box.
Coroner airs on Universal TV (DStv channel 117) on Mondays at 8pm.