Guilty Party premieres Thursday, Oct. 14 on Paramount+.
Guilty Party, starring Kate Beckinsale as a disgraced reporter looking to reclaim her past fame by trying to prove an imprisoned woman is innocent of murder, is a total tedious mess of a mystery series in its premiere. It never settles on a tone, refuses to give us characters to care about, and is structured too poorly to rope us in.
Guilty Party episodes hover at around a half hour, which can be a blessing if a series keeps things tight, moving, and meaningful. But Guilty Party's pilot delivers only a third of the story you need in an introductory episode, and without the show being a binge-able product yet, this is what it rests on, and relies on, to hook us. And it's a flop. Beckinsale's Beth Baker isn't woeful enough to empathize with nor is she quirky or funny enough to captivate us.
At times, it seems like Beth was plucked from Legally Blonde, as a hidden brain who people underestimate, but then that's disrupted when she shows no acumen, influence, or intuition in any areas of her life. On top of that, she's not even charismatically inept in a way that makes her relatable or likeable.
In this first episode, "The Last Real Journalist Working in Denver," we watch as Beth receives a local award for "Excellence in Investigative Journalism" only to have the prize immediately rescinded and her job at the Denver Chronicle taken away because she lied about… well, something. And that's almost all we learn about her in the pilot. That's all we know about Beth as we leave the premiere episode. We never hear what the big lie was or why she did it or any explanation coming from her side. That will all come further down the line in the season, most likely, but that's too late. You can't present a shell of a character and expect viewers to care.
On top of this, nothing Beth does in this first chapter is smart. She's fantastically obtuse about most things. Exiled to work in the realm of pop-culture reporting, Beth is daft enough to think her new editor at Pop Bite will want a story about human trafficking or homelessness, as if she enters work every single day completely unaware of who employs her.
And then somehow the show has the gall to villainize Pop Bite for simply being what it is and not Beth for not being able to read a single room she walks into. We're supposed to buy her as a sleuth, but there's not one single situation in this first episode she handles with any notion of a human who's experienced other humans.
It's entirely possible that Guilty Party improves over the course of the season, as the actual mystery elements don't even get touched on here in the first episode, but that just leaves us with a severely flat and uninteresting pilot. It's not until the very end that Beth meets Jules Latimer's falsely incarcerated Toni (where Beth, naturally, makes an ass of herself) and even then no deal is struck.
Obviously, there's a redemption arc here for Beth as she (hopefully) learns to stop being such a bizarrely contemptuous fibber, but this first episode is just so thin that there's little-to-no reason to continue forward.