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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
THE WHOLE TRUTH (ABC)
(written by Tom Donaghy; directed by Alex Graves; TRT: 43:52)
The network's description: "This unique legal drama chronicles the way a case is built from the perspective of both the defense and prosecution. Showing each side equally keeps the audience guessing, shifting allegiances and opinions on guilt or innocence until the very final scene. Kathryn Peale, the product of a New England background and a sheriff father, is the Deputy Bureau Chief in the New York State District Attorney's office. Jimmy Brogan, born and raised in Hell's Kitchen and a friend of Kathryn's since their days at Yale Law School, is one of New York's rising criminal attorney stars. Buoyed by their respective teams, these evenly matched lawyers - each with a strong streak of competitiveness, a fervent belief in their clients and an equally intense passion for the law - go about creating two different stories from the same set of facts. As this up-close, behind-the-scenes look at the legal process mirrors the excitement of a championship match, it becomes evident that truth has nothing to do with innocence or guilt - at the end of every trial, the only thing that matters is what the jury believes."
What did they leave out? Maura Tierney is expected to replace Joely Richardson as Kathryn Peale, who played the role in the original pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: When family man/beloved schoolteacher Glen Sellards (Rick Kelly) is arrested for the murder of one of his students, the prosecution and the defense must ready their cases. Spearheading each side: high-strung ADA Kathryn Peale (Joely Richardson) and scruffy defense attorney Jimmy Brogan (Rob Morrow), who despite their regular courtroom battles, are actually respectful rivals and old friends from law school. Each episode then is broken into four parts: "The Arraignment," "The Prosecution," "The Defense" and "The Trial" with the action in the middle two actually being the same story, but told from opposing angles.
Not surprisingly then each side presents the narrative in a different light: Kathryn paints Glen as a predator and racist, a wolf in sheep's clothing; Jimmy conversely presents him as any easy scapegoat, a man who not only goes out of his way for his students but dotes over his wife, who's fighting cancer. And they each have evidence that backs their theory: Kathryn uncovers Glen's saliva was found on the girl's body and he was once fired for having an affair with a student; while Jimmy points to Glen's rock solid alibi not to mention a video which shows the murdered girl wasn't exactly the chaste angel the prosecution would have you believe.
The even split also applies to their second and third chairs. Kathryn and Jimmy each have their trusted confidantes - Terrence "Edge" Edgecomb (Eamonn Walker) and Alejo Salazar (Anthony Ruivivar), respectively - as well as less clandestine members of their team - rich kid/empty suit Chad Griffin (Sean Wing) and ambitious/backstabbing Lena Boudreaux (Christine Adams), respectively. Both sides however eventually discover their initial theories don't hold water and then must scramble to find the evidence that will win their case. And finally, after the verdict is read, the "whole truth" about what actually happened is revealed.
What works: It's exactly what you expect from the Bruckheimer procedural machine, in this case a follow-up to FOX's short-lived "Justice" (which ironically also co-starred Eamonn Walker). This incarnation however differentiates itself via a "Law & Order"-esque framework: each side comes up with various pieces of evidence, the judge rules yea or nea on which ones can be presented and the trial sees whether they ultimately hold water. And like any procedural, smoking guns often prove to be innocuous while small details have damaging repercussions. In that respect the show comes off as something of a legal drama videogame where you can almost see the points scored and damage received as meters next to Jimmy and Kathryn. And while that makes for a slightly more unique viewing experience...
What doesn't: ...it still doesn't escape the fact the characters are relatively one-note and their mechanics are kind of creaky. Jimmy and Kathryn are presented as scenery chewing ciphers, he the scrappy, unshaven underdog who wears red sneakers to court because his kids like it, she the booming voice of authority who's single and loving it. And while the pilot tries to shoehorn in some sense they see themselves in their respective clients - he the kind of teacher that got him where he is today, she the victim who like her is her family's pride and joy - we never really get to know them beyond silly platitudes - he shouts things like "These charges are bull caca!" and "Mama mia that's good pizza!" while she trumpets developments like "Hence the lack of semen in Maria's body!" and "How could we not have known about Todd Engler!"
All of the above would seem to suggest the more volume you add to each line, the more gravitas it will have. Other elements like some cringe-worthy dialogue (Edge at one point actually says with a straight face, "Having a wonky wang, that would really cramp my style") and the use of the word semen more times than I recall in an hour of television in recent memory likewise contribute to the show's generally off-putting vibe. That's not to say those who love these types of shows won't find aspects they enjoy...
The bottom line: ...but don't expect greatness.