Stay Tuned: Taking on the afterlife in ‘Proof’
“Proof” is about a dying billionaire inventor who convinces a skeptical surgeon to investigate cases of near-death experiences in order to prove that death is not the end. As a viewer, you approach this show with your own thoughts on the subject but the premise is more interesting than whether or not you believe in something after death. While the storyline is a very literal interpretation of science versus faith, it’s also an intriguing idea if you dig deeper. What if the afterlife was fact and not belief? Would the world change if everyone knew that reward and punishment after death was a certainty?
Another, maybe stronger show might ask these questions more forcefully. Better yet, it might start off with the idea that the afterlife is a scientific fact, however that would work, and go from there. “Proof” is taking a safer approach by focusing on one woman’s search for understanding as she struggles between logic and belief.
Dr. Carolyn Tyler (Jennifer Beals) is a skilled surgeon whose teenage son recently died in a car accident. She agrees to billionaire Ivan Turing’s (Matthew Modine) request because he promises that no matter what she discovers, he will bequeath her his fortune. She plans to give the money to a doctors without borders type organization for which she volunteers.
The story moves between Carolyn’s workplace where she is a tough but caring doctor, her domestic life and the cases she examines in her search for proof. Her marriage to a fellow doctor is breaking up and she has a shaky relationship with her teenage daughter. An intern, Dr. Zedan “Zed” Badawi (Edi Gathegi ), takes on the “partner” role in her investigations. Combining all these story elements means the show has less focus than it could have but it allows Carolyn to have more layers. Her likeability also owes a lot to Beals’ performance because she successfully balances Carolyn’s vulnerability with the character’s strong personality. Beals is very watchable and she makes you want to go with Carolyn on her journey.
Carolyn also has interactions with Peter Van Owen (Callum Blue), a popular spiritualist whose television appearances and books have made him an authority on what happens after death. The character is meant as a counterpoint to Carolyn: the true believer versus the skeptic. It adds tension to the story but Carolyn’s skepticism is not iron clad. Before she meets Ivan, she nearly drowns while on a volunteer mission. Close to death, she sees her son.
How Carolyn comes to understand her near death experience in light of her investigations for Ivan is the central point of the series as well as its commentary on the subject of the afterlife. At times, it can feel like a TV movie that wants to impart a “lesson” but hopefully it will resist giving easy answers.
“Proof” is on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT on TNT.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.