[08/01/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Just Legal" (The WB)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:

(Mondays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)

The network's description: "�Just Legal� is a fast-paced procedural drama with humor starring Jay Baruchel (�Undeclared," �Million Dollar Baby�) and Don Johnson (�Miami Vice, � �Nash Bridges�) as lawyers who save their clients, and in the process, save themselves. David �Skip� Ross (Baruchel), 19, a brilliant legal prodigy, dreams of becoming a great trial lawyer. When he can't land a job at a prestigious L.A. firm because he's too young, Skip ends up working for Grant Cooper (Johnson). Once a great lawyer, now burnt-out by the realities of life, Cooper is barely scraping by in his beachfront law office. Together, Skip and Cooper become defenders of the accused and crusaders for the unjustly wronged. Their cases vary from stories ripped from today's headlines to clever mysteries with procedural twists. Skip's middle-class parents, Deborah (Veanne Cox, �Erin Brockovich�) and Lenny Ross (Raphael Sbarge, �The Guardian�), and his under-achieving younger brother Tom (newcomer Michael Mitchell), are all extremely proud of Skip's accomplishments, but are also concerned for his well-being, especially when his first case involves proving the innocence of a young woman named Paradise (Peyton List, �The Greatest Game Ever Played�) who has been falsely accused of a gang-related murder. Always the underdogs, forced to do the gritty work of finding clues and tracking down witnesses in the beautiful, but often dangerous world of Southern California, Cooper teaches Skip to be a lawyer and a man, while Skip renews Cooper's faith in the law and himself."

What did they leave out: Newcomer Jaime Lee Kirchner will join the cast following the pilot as a young woman who went to school with Baruchel's character.

The plot in a nutshell: 19-year-old David "Skip" Ross (Jay Baruchel) is finding that being the "Doogie Howser" of the legal world is far from easy: no one will hire him because he's too young and inexperienced, despite being at the top of his class since he was born (his nickname "Skip" comes from him skipping so many grades). They might be right though as after giving a great speech about why he wants to be a trial lawyer to a potential employer, they're interrupted by his mom (Veanne Cox) with his ride home. Left with no options, Skip turns to washed-up ambulance chaser Grant Cooper (a barely recognizable Don Johnson) whom he befriended during his current job as a golf caddy. Cooper though has his own agenda as he realizes that the squeaky-clean Skip will help him quell the rage of the various judges that have grown tired of his antics. Their first case together: a young woman named Paradise (Peyton List) is accused of a gang-related murder, and appears willing to take the fall for her drug-dealing boyfriend. From here it plays out as you'd expect as Skip's idealism - he wants to fight for her - quickly clashes with Cooper's pragmatism - he wants to cut a deal with the D.A. And again as you'd expect, both characters wear each other down as Skip uncovers a noble lawyer inside of Cooper and Cooper well... um, makes Skip, okay so it's more about Skip getting Cooper to come around. Anyway, this all leads to the big courtroom showdown where... as if I have to tell you.

What works: For all its vanilla legal trappings, "Just Legal" nevertheless works quite well as a character drama. Jay Baruchel's Skip and Don Johnson's Cooper are both likeable and (more importantly) enjoyable characters to watch. Skip completely sells me in the opening sequence about why he wants to be a lawyer, enough to ignore the hokey "Doogie Howser"-esque premise that drives the show. Equally as fun is Skip's home life, complete with dotting parents (Veanne Cox, Raphael Sbarge) and a younger brother (Michael Mitchell) who revels in his under-achievements and teasing Skip ("so if you lose this case does she get the chair?"). Even Johnson gets a "makeover" from his "Miami Vice" and "Nash Bridges" days, playing a down-on-his-luck lawyer who nervously worries about slipping even further down the legal chain.

What doesn't: In terms of being a procedural, I couldn't help but be bored to tears by the legal maneuverings of the plot. Paradise's case is completely by-the-numbers for a legal drama, even with its "twist" in the end. It's only through Skip's eyes that it feels even remotely new as he and Cooper question witnesses, research case law, etc. Nevertheless, even then you can feel each twist and turn coming, much to my disappointment. In any case, it's hard to beat up a "procedural" show that puts the characters first. I just hope the "cases" perk up when the new show smell has subsided from the characters. And who would have thought - a Jerry Bruckheimer show that puts the focus on the characters rather than the cases?

The challenges ahead: Is the WB audience ready for a legal drama? And if so is it the post-"7th Heaven" audience? We'll know for sure this fall on the WB.

  [august 2005]  


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