May 15, 2006 12:00 PM

Lifetime (May 8, 9 p.m. ET)


When Fran introduces her sister and grown daughter to her new boyfriend, they joke about his preposterously bland name: John Smith. They could also joke about the blankness of the person who comes with it. As played by Adam Arkin, he’s a dry gray sponge of a man, but also pleasant and affable—a few degrees safely removed from full-throttle creepdom. Fran impulsively becomes Mrs. Smith, relocates with her new husband from the Midwest to New Jersey, then disappears without a trace. He claims she left him to return to her family, but she never arrives anywhere ever again.

Murder on Pleasant Drive, based on an actual case, is meant to be the story of the determined, decade-long hounding of this man by Fran’s daughter (The Practice’s Kelli Williams) and sister (Amy Madigan). The odd thing is, their drive to learn the truth and secure justice is never as compelling as Arkin’s morose, blunt obstinacy in the face of evidence that Fran isn’t the only woman to have vanished after meeting him. Slowly, grimly, Arkin manages to overshadow the other performers, including the very skillful Madigan. Evil may be banal, but it’s not boring.

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