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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
BONUS FIRST LOOK: LAW DOGS (CBS)
(pilot not ordered to series)
The network's description: No official description has been released.
What did they leave out: The screened pilot was actually shot as a "presentation," meaning it's more of a selection of key scenes (around 36 minutes by my count) rather than a full blown first episode. Should it have been picked up to series, the footage would have been expanded into a full pilot. And for you trivia buffs, an earlier version of this script was set up at NBC back in 2003.
The plot in a nutshell: News footage of various bungled crooks is intercut with the following tag: "Public defenders - lawyers who provide counsel to persons in need. They are challenged, virtuous and relentless." Jason Marlowe (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is one of said group, the child of a political dynasty who cast off his family's legacy in favor of working as a Los Angeles public defender. There - along with co-workers Lily Blackwood (Janeane Garofalo), the tough one; Carly Owen (Rachael Carpani), the one who's unlucky in love; Matt Harper (Josh Cooke), the newbie; Law Clerk (Chastity Dotson), the law clerk (and yes, that's her character name); and boss Alton "Big Al" MacBride (Barry Shabaka Henley), their exasperated leader - he defends the defenseless, no matter how crazy they are. The pilot then concerns itself with four cases ranging from the serious - Carly deals with an ex-con whose attempts to turn her life around are derailed by a potential third strike conviction - to the more serious - Jason defends a cop (Nikki Deloach) who shot a defenseless Latino kid, later revealed to be a war hero - to the not quite serious - Lily must persuade a difficult client into accepting a plea, even if it means threatening his dog - to the really not that serious - Matt must defend a man ("The Wire's" Andre Royo) who tried to escape from the interview room... only to get stuck in the ceiling. Not surprisingly, all four cases are designed to fan the flames of each regular character's central trait - Matt learns the law is kind of a joke; Carly learns no matter how unlucky she is in finding a man, there are others even worse off; Jason learns that he genuinely believes in what he does; and Lily, well, reaffirms Big Al's statement that if she wasn't defending them, she'd be a criminal herself.
What works: The less serious the show gets, the better it works as Matt and Lily's cases prove to be far more entertaining than Jason and Carly's while...
What doesn't: ...the more serious the show gets, the worse it works as Jason and Carly's cases prove to be far less entertaining than Matt and Lily's. And while I get the show's central premise of "we have to defend them" runs the gamut of both scenarios, one can't help but enjoy the show more when it takes itself less seriously. I mean do we need another case of "ex-con trying to turn his/her life around only to get screwed by an honest mistake?" Or another "white cop shoots minority kid because she's supposedly predisposed to think of them as acting suspiciously?" I'd much rather see Matt trying to explain why it looks like he's trying to help his client escape again, only to slip and fall - taking the man's previously unseen prosthetic leg with him. Why? Because it's the only scenario where you don't see the obvious conclusion beating you over the head with a stick. The idea of a neophyte lawyer learning the law isn't all it's cracked up to be is a fun - and potentially dramatic - one (go watch Sidney Lumet's Night Falls on Manhattan to see what I mean) so it's a shame that it's swept under the carpet of warmed-over legal procedural plots you've see done over and over again. All in all, I want to root for this show but...
The bottom line: ...it's hard to when the best parts get lost in shuffle.