Saturday, February 19, 2011

Regarding "Harry's Law"

Scott D. Parker

Anyone watching NBC’s “Harry’s Law”? It airs at 9pm CST on Mondays opposite my favorite TV show, ABC’s “Castle,” and CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O.” Through the magic of On Demand, I’ve caught the first five episodes of Harry’s Law and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

It’s a David E. Kelley show so, right off the bat, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Law show? Check. Outsized characters? Check. Passionate courtroom arguments posing as opinion pieces for Mr. Kelley? Check. But, then again, this kind of show is right up my alley. I was a huge “Boston Legal” fan. I could watch an hour of James Spader-as-Alan Shore reading the phone book and I’d be entertained. William Shatner successfully shed the Kirk skin with his role as--say it with me--Denny Crane. Candice Bergen was sublime in her role as Shirley Schmidt. Truthfully, I miss the show more than I care to admit.

Which is where Harry’s Law comes in. Kathy Bates stars in this legal drama set in Cincinnati. She is a prominent patent attorney who gets fired only see her hang a shingle in a downtown storefront that also sell shoes. Yup, shoes. She’s earnest and, according to one character in the fifth episode, the law profession is better off for Bates’s Harriet Korn being a lawyer. Of course it is. It’s a David Kelley show.

Surrounding her is a typical cast of characters. Earnest young lawyer, Adam Branch (played by Nate Corddry, late of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) who more or less sees her as a mother figure (and a target for his car: episode one) and proves himself in her eyes. Cute young receptionist Jenna Backstorm (Brittany Snow) who takes appointments and sells the shoes. Rounding out the fantastic foursome is Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen) who tried to commit suicide only to land on Harry. After being successfully (natch) defended in court by Harry, Malcolm now works for Harry as a paralegal.

The tone of this essay might sound a bit sarcastic and, to be true, there’s a little of that. David E. Kelley has become a brand name of sorts. You attach his name to anything he does (the magnificent Picket Fences, the always fun Ally McBeal) and you pretty much know what you’re going to get. I think, perhaps, the reason I love Kelley shows so much is that they are like CSI: Miami: they don’t try to be real, they strive to be entertaining via none-too-subtle performances and setups.

If Harry doesn’t have any foil, the result would be much like the Star Wars prequels, which suffered the absence of Han Solo. Harry’s got two. Josh Peyton (the excellent Paul McCrane at his smarmy best), the DA, who is put upon as much as Hamilton Burger was opposite Perry Mason. And then there’s Thomas Jefferson. Ah, yes, the cousin of William Shatner’s Denny Crane. Tommy Jefferson is the arrogant, near buffoon of a lawyer, known for his name if not his courtroom prowess. More than once in these five episodes, after Jefferson (played superbly by Christopher McDonald*) has gone on a mini rant, I kept waiting for him to say “Denny Crane.” He does say “Tommy Jefferson” some. I love it.

The show breaks little new ground, but it fills the void left by Boston Legal. And, at times, the characters make choices and follow through with actions that make them more three dimensional. Back in the day, the public loved watching Perry Mason take an almost unwinnable case and turn it on a dime. The same holds true here. It’s just fun. The developing tete-a-tete between the veteran Jefferson and the newbie Branch is vintage Kelley.

Now, I will always tune in and watch “Castle” live. That won’t change. But I think I’m to the point now where I don’t want to wait until the show lands On Demand the following day. I’m thinking I’m going to have to tape it and get my “Harry’s Law” fix immediately after “Castle.” Forget the late local news. I want to learn in the classroom of David Kelley.

Watch episode online here.

Article of the Week: Check out the interview Entertainment Weekly had with “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh. I’ve never been a huge fan of Thor, but I put the movie on my to-see list as soon as I read Branagh was to sit in the director’s chair. Reading this article on how he went about crafting the movie and his thoughts on popular entertainment, both for Shakespeare and in the 21st Century, is enlightening and honest.

*Bonus points to you if you can name McDonald's "Star Trek" credentials.


David Cranmer said...

I avoid most new television but you have intrigued me with Harry. I will check it out.

Anonymous said...

I find Harry's Law to be a "BUT" show. I am enjoying Harry's Law very much, "but" it unfortunately is no Boston Legal! I love Kathy Bates in almost every part I have seen her play and I like her as Harry, "but" she is no James Spader as Alan Shore. I guess it all comes down to the fact that I loved Boston Legal so much that a Kelley law show without Alan Shore and Crane, Poole, and Schmidt is just a shallow replacement. That being said I will continue to watch Harry's Law and enjoy it while I am viewing, and when the show ends I will sit and mourn that it is not Boston Legal.