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Guilty Party review: Paramount Plus goes true crime-ish

A great cast elevates an otherwise mid-tier crime comedy.

Published onOctober 15, 2021

The true crime explosion continues, and fiction is even getting in on the format… sort of. Shows like Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building tackle true crime within their narratives. Now Paramount Plus is taking a stab with the Kate Beckinsale-starring Guilty Party.

Paramount shared the first three episodes of Guilty Party with Android Authority. Read on for our review of the show which premiered on Paramount Plus on October 14.

What is Guilty Party about?

Guilty Party review Paramount Plus

Beth Baker (Beckinsale) is an award-winning investigative reporter, until one day she loses it all. Now disgraced (did she really make up her sources’ quotes?), she works for a start-up pop culture website, where she struggles to fit in with her youthful colleagues and the listicles and fashion-centric posts required.

Then she receives a letter from an inmate at a women’s penitentiary. Toni Plimpton (Jules Latimer) is serving a sentence for the murder of her husband. But she didn’t do it, she says in her letter. She’s a victim of a justice system overly eager to incarcerate Black women, and she needs Beth’s help.

More TV mystery reviews: The Lost Symbol on Peacock

This is Beth’s chance at getting her career back on track, and if she’s lucky, doing some good for someone in need. What follows is a deep dive into the world of gun-running, exotic lizards, tanning salons, and sex work as Beth tries to find the truth. It’s full of comedy, mystery, and suspense.

Who actually killed Toni’s husband though? Can Beth get to the bottom of the crime? Or is she being used by Toni to exonerate her despite her genuine guilt?

Art imitates true crime

Paramount Plus

True crime has been one of the defining entertainments of the last decade. From celebrated podcasts like Serial and My Favorite Murder to TV hits like HBO’s The Vow to polarizing streaming oddities like Netflix’s Tiger King, the genre has taken hold of our collective attention.

It’s a genre that has now even attracted backlash, or at least some necessary scrutiny. As a recent piece in Gawker outlines, major crime has been on the steady decline for almost two decades. And men are overrepresented among murder victims. So why are we so fascinated by stories of (often) women’s grizzly deaths and the implication that there’s a killer lurking in every shadow? These are often reactionary and conservative ways to frame crime, the piece concludes. Plenty of others have pointed to true crime’s uncritical praise of law enforcement too.

After Hulu's Only Murder's in the Building, we can probably look forward to plenty of comedies set in the world of true crime like Guilty Party.

All of that is why it was such a treat to discover Hulu’s brilliant recent series Only Murders in the Building, in which die-hard true crime fans take it upon themselves to solve a murder in their own apartment complex and record a podcast about it. The show addresses the absurdity of true crime fandom while simultaneously pointing to just why these programs hold such appeal.

This is the world that Guilty Party wades into. Beth isn’t recording a podcast, but she’s driven by a familiar goal: to use journalism to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system. She’s out of her depth, as anyone in her shoes likely would be, but this is her chance to get her career back on track while telling a great story.

Guilty Party review: The verdict

Guilty Party review

Unlike Only Murders in the Building, Guilty Party doesn’t seem to have much to say about true crime beyond just using it as a backdrop for comedy and mystery. Beth seems to want to be a white savior, and she shows up to meetings with Toni offensively unprepared, but more could be done with that premise.

Guilty Party also tries to be too many things at once. Beth’s career woes, disinterest in having children, baggage surrounding her famous mother, and potential relocation for her husband’s job all feel a little half-baked in the grand scheme of things. Even the conflicts with her boss seem a little silly — why is she pitching an in-depth, immersive profile of homelessness in the city at a pop culture magazine, for example? And why are we supposed to side with her on that?

Check out: Review of One of Us Is Lying on Peacock

Maybe all of that will come together later in the season. Maybe we’ll learn the details of her professional disgrace and they’ll be an important part of her investigation into Toni’s innocence. But none of that quite sets the right tone this early on.

At the very least, Kate Beckinsale is as good as ever. She plays Beth as a mix of the smartest person in the room and a clueless trainwreck, and for everything that isn’t working, she manages to carry the story along very well. And she’s not alone. Jules Latimer is just as good in the role of Toni. She adds depth to the show, which might otherwise breeze past the very real and very heavy stakes of wrongful incarceration. The tone of Guilty Party is spot on.

Either way, you can see for yourself on Paramount Plus.

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