There are two kinds of television movies: the truly memorable ones, boasting literate scripts and superb production values, and the guilty pleasures, those trashy no-brainers that seduce you with their improbable plots and idealized fantasy worlds.
"Murder in the Mirror," a momentary lapse of bad taste in the career of Jane Seymour (she stars and executive produces with husband James Keach, who also directs), is an undeniable entry in the guilty pleasure category. Even as a marginally enjoyable diversion, however, one can't help but question its very existence amid the cluttered mystery-thriller genre.
Looking as royal and impeccable as ever, Seymour portrays Dr. Mary Richland, a psychiatrist whose husband, also a shrink, has been murdered under mysterious circumstances. Enter Det. Frank Russo (James Farentino), a cardboard version of the hundreds of other TV detective characters all distilled into one. "She's dirty, Mendoza," Russo whispers to his young, inexperienced partner, and you know he's already convinced of Mrs. Richland's guilt.
Through the dimly lighted, coffee-drenched interrogation sessions with Mary, we learn the story of the couple that once was. When they first meet, she's a hairstylist with grandiose dreams of becoming a psychologist, and he's a notable PhD. A cultivated man (he orders his food in French), the doctor helps his wife achieve her full potential, while at the same time attempting to control every detail of her life.
But Dr. Richland is a man of many mysteries, and it is in Mary's post-mortem search for clues to exonerate her that the show achieves its few moments of believable tension. The Hitchcock motif of slowly unveiling a person's double life is handled expertly by Keach. And the plot thickens with the discovery of a mysterious link between the murdered man and a prostitute, portrayed with convincing grit by Hayley DuMond.
The problem with establishing this kind of intriguing premise is being able to not only maintain the suspense, but also resolve it in a satisfactory way, something "Murder in the Mirror" fails miserably at. After the deliberately slow buildup, the show's pedestrian resolution is frustratingly anticlimactic. A grand, operatic finale would have been a more adequate way to end a guilty pleasure of such spectacular proportions.
* "Murder in the Mirror" can be seen tonight at 9 on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with special advisories for coarse language and violence).