Here’s the viewing quandary of the week: Because of the competitive February sweeps period, the two most interesting, unusual shows on television this week are on opposite each other: ABC’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the first night of NBC’s two-part miniseries Love, Lies and Murder. If I were you, I’d watch Baby Jane on Sunday when it’s broadcast and tape both nights of Love, Lies to watch later, in one nerve-racking session after the sweeps are over and reruns are again pervasive. This is one reason VCRs were invented.
Love, Lies and Murder is based on the murder of Linda Bailey Brown (Navy SEALs‘ Cathryn DePrume), who was shot to death in her Orange County, Calif., bed in 1985. As this miniseries presents the case, Brown’s 14-year-old daughter, Cinnamon (Moira Kelly), is arrested after her fingerprints are found on the murder weapon.
But as the four hours of Love, Lies and Murder proceed, the story gets much more complicated — as well as extremely unnerving. In Danielle Hill’s teleplay, Linda’s husband, David (Blue Steel‘s Clancy Brown), proves to have been an evilly charismatic man who manipulated the women in his life. Linda’s sister, Patti (Twin Peaks‘ Sheryl Lee), lived in the Browns’ house and believed that David was in love with her (a flashback also informs us that David molested Patti when she was a child). The movie shows David convincing both Cinnamon and Patti that Linda was plotting to kill him. He tells them that Linda should be shot, as he so ironically puts it, ”to keep this family together,” and insists that either Cinnamon or Patti pull the trigger.
Love, Lies and Murder is ultimately a portrait of a control freak, a con man of other people’s emotions. As the miniseries moves into its second night, David marries Patti and has a baby with her. He also makes this new wife his prisoner, keeping her away from her friends and attaching an electronic beeper to her whenever she leaves the house so that he can keep in constant contact with her. ”David is my life,” says Patti.
”Daddy told me it was right,” Cinnamon says about the murder of her mother. Even after serving a stretch in jail, she professes her love for her father. The movie wants us to understand how a smoothy like David Brown could undermine the morals and common sense of the people around him. But Love, Lies and Murder isn’t just a psychological study; it’s also a solid detective story, showing us how a dogged police officer (Beverly Hills Cop‘s John Ashton) dug up the evidence to put Brown in jail for life.
The movie is occasionally a little poky, and it takes a while to get the relationships of everyone in the family straight. But Clancy Brown is exceptionally effective as this malevolent, honey-voiced charmer, and Sheryl Lee proves that there is life after Laura Palmer; she reveals a lot of range and subtlety. Love, Lies and Murder, four hours of creepiness and depravity, was a big gamble for coproducer-writer Hill and director Robert Markowitz (the recent James Garner TV movie Decoration Day). If the miniseries hadn’t been any good, you could have dismissed it as cynical and exploitive. Instead, it’s very good; watch it and you’ll be rattled for days afterward.