[07/05/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Shark" (CBS)
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 2006-07 season less than three 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 or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 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 entry:

(Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c this fall)

The network's description: "SHARK (Thursday, 10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) stars multiple Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner James Woods ("Ghosts of Mississippi," "ER") as Sebastian Stark, a charismatic, supremely self-confident defense attorney who, after a shocking outcome in one of his cases and a personal epiphany, brings his cutthroat tactics to the prosecutor's office. As the head of the Los Angeles District Attorney's High Profile Crime Unit, Stark works for Jessica Devlin, (Jeri Ryan, "The O.C."), the ambitious and accomplished D.A. who despises his ruthless strategies. Devlin teams him with a group of young prosecutors who are about to have the learning experience of a lifetime because, though Stark is seeking to redeem himself, he has no intention of cooling his underhanded approach to cases just because he's now working for the "good guys." Sam Page ("American Dreams"), Alexis Cruz ("American Family"), Sarah Carter ("Numb3rs"), Danielle Panabaker ("Mom at Sixteen"), Romy Rosemont ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") and Sophina Brown ("Without a Trace") also star."

What did they leave out: It's basically "House" done as a legal drama.

The plot in a nutshell: Sebastian Stark (James Woods) is your prototypical big shot L.A. defense lawyer - he loves the media attention, he loves showing off and most importantly - he loves winning. His latest case is no exception. Gordie Beck, a star hockey player, has been charged with attempting to murder his wife. And so Stark does his thing - sure he's abusive but he did call 911 so he couldn't really have wanted to kill her - and presto chango, Beck is a free man. But no good deed goes unpunished as Beck goes on to actually murder his wife that night, sending Stark into a guilt-ridden hole. Months pass and Stark, now a recluse in his million dollar home, gets a call from the mayor (Carlos Gomez) who offers him a job on the side of the angels as part of his new High Profile Crime Unit. He begrudgingly accepts and now must take orders from his one-time rival, D.A. Jessica Devlin (Jeri Ryan), as well as lead a team of misfit lawyers - Casey Woodland (Sam Page), "good with the jury, weak on the facts"; Elena Morales (apologies, as I didn't recognize the actress), "great on paper, freezes on her feet"; Raina Troy (Sophina Brown), "brilliant, tough, major authority problem"; Martin Allende (Alexis Cruz), "smart, aggressive, alienates jurors"; and Madeline Poe (Sarah Carter), in her words - "I'm here to learn from the best." Their first case is the prerequiste underdog - a wannabe pop star is charged with murdering her one-night stand, whom she says tried to rape her. From there we get the lowdown on Stark's "Cutthroat Manifesto": one - trial is war, second place is death; two - truth is relative, create one that wins; and three - in a jury trial, only 12 opinions matter.

Basically, it translates into Stark continuously berating his team for not being smart, clever or prepared enough. Hoping to motivate them he shows them his "secret" - that he has a replica courtroom (complete with various legal memorabilia) which he uses to refine his arguments. That of course leads to more berating and one of them to quit. In between all this we learn Stark has a daughter Julie (Danielle Panabaker) who is about to move to New York with his ex-wife (Lindsay Frost), a decision which doesn't sit well with Julie as she hasn't made peace with her relationship with dad (brace yourself, Stark is a crappy father). And it's because of said angelic daughter, Stark learns he has to dial back his methods in order to not only win but make himself a better person.

What works: It's borderline comical how much "Shark" is like "House." From the supporting cast (Devlin = Cuddy, Poe = Cameron, etc.) to the smartest guy in the room grandstanding, it's really the first genuine "House" clone to come along. And to its credit, said formula translates well into the courtroom and I have no doubt this will be one of the hit shows of the new season.

What doesn't: Nevertheless, Stark himself doesn't feel like a real character - it's basically James Woods being James Woods. He doesn't really have any unique traits outside of being the Big Shot Defense Lawyer in Every TV Show (TM pending). Even his "rehabilitation" feels artificial (complete with maudlin piano music). To its credit though, a few promising seeds are planted, most notably guest star Lynn Whitfield as Stark's one-time fellow defense attorney flame who calls Stark out on his so-called "rehabilitation." Developments like those give hope to Stark becoming a unique character along the lines of House, but so far that's not the case.

The challenges ahead: Can "Stark" assume the mantle of "Without a Trace" and its recent tradition of beating NBC's "ER?"

  [july 2006]  


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