THE SERIES "Proof"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday night at 10 on TNT

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Aren't we all curious? Afterlife, near-death experiences, reincarnation, psychic connection, rejoining departed loved ones "on the other side" -- believe it or don't, the prospects continue to tantalize.

As they do Jennifer Beals' hotshot cardiothoracic surgeon, dragooned into this drama's quest for "Proof" by Matthew Modine's gaunt, dying i-billionaire. (Read: Steve Jobs.) He paves her path by offering his estate for her medical do-gooding, in return for her pursuit of scientific evidence, one way or the other.

Beals' Dr. Cat Tyler has lost her own teen son, separated from her surgeon husband (David Sutcliffe) and alienated her teen daughter (Annie Thurman), leaving her figuratively lost at sea -- which we soon learn she once was, literally, in her own swim-toward-the-light moment.

MY SAY Could those circumstances seem more conveniently contrived? Ditto the show's bright-light "death" visions and blue beams that streak the screen whenever the "after"-life touches this one. Character chat also gets a bit overt, as when Modine beseeches Beals by telling her she's "skeptical and sarcastic, full of yourself, just like me."

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And yet. These all help "Proof" prove itself. They pack a punch -- but only when smartly employed in top-notch productions with intelligent performances. (How many Hollywood "passion" projects sink into self-parody?)

Beals and company (including Joe Morton as her remarkably flesh-and-blood boss) breathe life into this tale the way their characters restore life to patients, with skill and guts and, crucially, souls that radiate precisely what this show is about. Human consciousness. We're eternally curious about our own being.

In Tuesday's pilot, creator Rob Bragin swiftly lays out all of this to set viewers' minds assessing their own beliefs. Bragin and adroit director Alex Graves ("Game of Thrones") drift more procedural in next week's afterlife-case-of-the-week. Yet they maintain the drama's character focus -- supporting players take shape -- as well as the objectivity of their inquiry.

There's science here, but there's also a psychic (Callum Blue) who may remind some of Long Island's John Edward. Logic on one hand, "the light" on the other. Skepticism. Hope. An open mind.

GRADE B+