In the new crime anthology series " 'Til Death Do Us Part," host John Waters goes by the moniker "the Groom Reaper." Yes, it's a hideous pun. But then it's describing Waters, the auteur of bad taste, the holder of the honorary Russ Meyer schlock chair, and so it's hideous in a fitting way. When Waters appears at the start of each episode, an ironic grin playing beneath his pencil-thin mustache, the show promises to be bad in a good way.
And " 'Til Death Do Us Part," Court TV's first scripted series, almost contains enough comically clumsy filming and overacting to achieve camp. Almost, but not quite enough, even with Waters doing his twisted Rod Serling bit. If only the show, which premieres tonight at 10, would go a little further over the top as it dramatizes real murders between husbands and wives. When the homicide plots are as dully predictable as they are on " 'Til Death Do Us Part," the cheese needs to be unmistakably ripe.
In each episode, the Groom Reaper introduces us to a couple on their wedding day, reminding us that one of them will wind up dead. At the nuptials of a funeral director and his fiance, after catching the bouquet, Waters says, "Although they're both riding in the front of the hearse today, in just six years one of them will be riding in the back." And indeed, jealousy rears its head, adultery makes a cameo, and, finally, a giant knife is plunged. None of it will surprise you; these familiar tales make the twists in "Law & Order" and "CSI" look dazzlingly clever.
In addition to the presence of Waters, the potential for entertainment on " 'Til Death Do Us Part" is in the way the killer in the funeral-director episode crazily chants, "Visualize, execute, and enjoy!" while committing the crime. That mantra was introduced earlier in the episode as part of the nasty wife's weight-loss program. Another laugh-out-loud moment occurs when, in a different episode, a pilot exclaims to a murderer, "Get the duffel bag, we've got a date over the Pacific!" while they stand above a dead body. And the acting can be amusingly amateurish in a local-TV-commercial kind of way. It's always perverse fun to watch feelings -- rage! passion! jealousy! -- get telegraphed all the way to China and back.
But the bulk of the show doesn't trigger laughter so much as yawns. Too often, the stories come off as rote docudramatic melodrama. Last week, Court TV announced its intention to alter both its name and its programming orientation in 2008, with all legal coverage relegated to daytime to make room for more reality TV at night (including a series about female bounty hunters). More humor, both on " 'Til Death Do Us Part" and the network as a whole, might be in order. Anything to take our minds off Nancy Grace.