Monday, January 17, 2011

Presenting Their Cases

This week will bring to American television two new weekly series of potential interest to crime-fiction enthusiasts.

Tonight offers the premiere of Harry’s Law, a one-hour NBC program (beginning at 10 p.m. ET/PT). It features Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates in the role of Harriet “Harry” Korn, a successful patent attorney in Cincinnati, Ohio, who—after 32 years of practice in the field—finally realizes that patent law is “boring.”
Not surprisingly, she’s soon dismissed from her position, and moves into a far less straightforward practice in, of all places, an abandoned shoe store. Supporting her in this new justice-seeking venture are: Adam Branch, a legal hotshot (played by Nate Corddry of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The United States of Tara fame) who, after hitting Korn with his car, decides he appreciates her often-unorthodox and ill-tempered ways and would prefer to join her firm; Jenna Backstrom (Brittany Snow, the ever-adorable former star of American Dreams), described as Harry’s assistant and “a shoe savant,” who continues selling footwear out of the storefront in order to keep Harry’s operation afloat; and Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen), a college student still trying to figure out his life, who, after seeking Harry’s help in the pilot, accepts unemployment in her office as well.

This being a production by David E. Kelley, well known for such series as The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, and Boston Legal, viewers can expect quirkiness in assorted varieties, both in terms of the characters and the writing. In an recent interview with TV Squad, Kelley acknowledged that Harry’s Law probably taps the more comic extremes of his creative spectrum. “I don’t think I could write a straight drama,” he said. “I’ve tried. As you probably know, I alienate probably just as many people as I attract with some of my nonsense. But I just don’t think it’s really in me to sit and write a procedural or a straight drama. I’m old enough now that I just, you know, if it’s not fun, why do it? So I like to sit and write what I enjoy.”

The jury’s still out on whether viewers will find that same enjoyment in watching Harry’s Law. But this show’s cast and storytelling style both seem to offer great promise. I, for one, am willing to give it a shot. Besides, now that Men of a Certain Age has ended its second season on TNT, and I’ve pretty much given up hope of the resurrected Hawaii Five-O ever maturing beyond clichés, there’s nothing else I care to watch at 10 o’clock on Mondays.

Then, on Thursday night (also at 10 p.m.), look for the opening episode of Fairly Legal. A USA Network series, it revolves around Kate Reed, a top-notch litigator with her family’s San Francisco firm, who, after her father’s demise and the takeover of that practice by her stepmother, decides she’s had enough of the American legal system’s bureaucracy, so embarks on a new career as a mediator. “Thanks to her understanding of human nature, thorough legal knowledge, and wry sense of humor,” explains the entertainment Web site Pop Tower, “she’s a natural at
resolving disputes ... except when it comes to her own.” Of which there are many, naturally—this being television and all.

One of the best things about this program (originally titled Facing Kate) is its protagonist, played by Sarah Shahi, who co-starred with Damien Lewis in the wonderfully offbeat, two-season cop series, Life. As it turns out, the captivating Shahi can also be quite funny, a talent she demonstrates in Fairly Legal as she struggles to create peace between screaming clients from all income brackets (and gradations on the sanity scale), negotiate a new relationship with her soon-to-be former husband, Justin Patrick (Michael Trucco) of the district attorney’s office, and tangle with “stepmonster” Lauren Reed (Virginia Williams), who is trying to hold Kate’s father’s old firm together in his absence.

Crimespree magazine editor Jon Jordan, who says he’s “had a chance to see a few episodes” of Fairly Legal, proclaims himself “pleasantly surprised.” He goes on to remark,
Normally law shows come off too self-righteous for me, but that really isn’t something I saw here. Kate wants to help people and finds a way to make it work. Like any truly good storytelling, what makes it work are the characters, and the folks who populate this show are terrific. No one is too extreme in who they are and they are believable, even if the situations occasionally go a bit further than they really might. I very quickly found myself rooting for Kate and Justin to get back together, and for Kate to come to terms with the loss of her dad. ...

Fairly Legal is engaging, entertaining, and very enjoyable.
Aside from a few bright spots (such as Detroit 1-8-7 and The Defenders, and older series such as The Good Wife and Southland), there hasn’t been a lot of quality series programming on American television for crime-fiction fans since September. Maybe Harry’s Law and Fairly Legal can change that dismal record.

READ MORE: Sarah Shahi Previews the New USA Show, Fairly Legal,”
by Kim Potts (TV Squad).

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