As the second season of Murder in the First comes to an end, I mostly reflect on one of its stars, Kathleen Robertson. I have enjoyed both seasons of the show so far, in large part because of a good and low-key cast (including Ian Anthony Dale, who is always fun to watch regardless of what it is – including Hawaii Five-0 and the otherwise tedious The Event). I won’t say anything more about Murder in the First except that I recommend it. Instead I will talk about why I have changed my mind about Kathleen Robertson.
It would be easy to dismiss Robertson based on what she has been best known for – playing a girl in Beverly Hills 90210. I believe she spent a few seasons as a roommate and friend to the main characters and her character also dated the “Steve” character in 90210. I was never a fan of 90210 and sometimes watched it to laugh at it. Even then, Robertson seemed a bit “fish out of water” because she seemed smarter than the show and her talent was constrained by the constraints of the show. Nevertheless, my determination had been made, however unfairly.
I never gave her much thought after 90210, although she popped up here and there.
When I finally got around to watching the short-lived but powerful Boss, a starring vehicle for Kelsey Grammer, I was consistently impressed with Robertson’s performance as political aide, Kitty O’Neill. At first I was doubtful – her character was smart, ambitious, driven but under the thumb of the oppressive Tom Kane (Grammer). The O’Neill character’s professional drive and underhandedness was something Robertson handled well, but where she excelled is in her handling of the character’s personal life. She uses her overt sexuality not to gain power but, it seems, to make herself feel better, to feel desirable, to feel powerful, even though nothing about it gives her power in the end. She attaches no emotion to her encounters – or tries not to and believes she isn’t, even though she is clearly affected (not necessarily in positive ways) by all her encounters and sometimes seeming humiliations. It is the classic powerful, single woman behaving in a sexually liberated, aggressive, detached way and she seems confused by her own evolution.
In part, she has dedicated her life to the politician she works for, and in that sense, does not have time or interest in anything else. And Kane can be a Machiavellian – and emotionally abusive – boss, which would further erode Kitty’s sense of worth. But she is sexually driven, but perhaps there is a lot more behind it than is first obvious. And what makes this compelling is what Robertson brings to the role. This tough exterior with a clearly vulnerable, emotionally stunted inside. And the thing is – it was deeply relatable. I found myself transfixed many times in Kitty’s more vulnerable moments, sometimes even pushed to tears by her choices or the choices she needed to make. It’s pretty rare that I would have such a reaction.
Robertson’s role in Murder in the First is quite different, although she brings some of the same tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside approach to her role that makes her feel strong and smart – but you can feel her frustrations, her tiredness, the way she is trying to balance her demanding career with her life as a single mother.
And then to top it off, I read recently that Robertson has written a new TV project, Your Time is Up. I am looking forward to seeing what she creates.