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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.]
HARRY'S LAW (NBC)
(written by David E. Kelley; directed by Bill D'Elia; TRT: 44:31)
The network's description: "Emmy Award-winning creator David E. Kelley ("The Practice," "Boston Legal") brings his unique storytelling to "Harry's Law," a series about fate and the people it brings together, starring Academy Award winner Kathy Bates ("Misery," "About Schmidt"). Harriet (Bates), Matthew (Ben Chaplin, "Me and Orson Wells") and Malcolm (Aml Ameen, "Kidulthood") couldn't be any more different. Harriet is a curmudgeonly ex-patent lawyer who, having just been fired from her cushy job, is completely disillusioned with her success and looking for a fresh start. Her world unexpectedly collides with Malcolm's -- a young man trying to figure out life. When he finds out Harriet is a lawyer, he begs her to represent him in an upcoming criminal case. Matthew, a dreamer at heart and also recently fired from his job as a high school teacher, is introduced to Harriet through Malcolm, a previous student of his. When these three cross paths, they realize they're all looking for a fresh start. Now, the most unlikely of people are starting a law practice in the most unlikely of places--a rundown shoe store. "Harry's Law" also stars Brittany Snow ("Hairspray") as Harriet's assistant, Jenna Backstrom and Beatrice Rosen ("Dark Knight") as Eve, a high school French teacher. "Harry's Law" is produced by Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with David E. Kelley Productions and Warner Bros. Television. David E. Kelley ("Boston Legal," "The Practice") and Bill D'Elia ("Boston Legal," "The Practice") serve as executive producers. D'Elia also is the director."
What did they leave out? The character of Matthew Conlon, played by Ben Chaplin, is being recast. Plus, the original title "Kindreds" seems more apt after watching.
The plot in a nutshell: Whether they believe it or not, the fates of three people are about to be intertwined. Law school-grad-turned-biology-teacher Matthew Conlon (Ben Chaplin) is about to lose his job after failing the school's star quarterback, who refuses to buy into his teachings about evolution. Patent lawyer Harriet Korn (Kathy Bates) is about to be fired for losing herself in cartoons and marijuana, as she just can't bring herself to care anymore about her job anymore. And college student Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen) is about to take his own life after getting busted for drug possession, a development which will spell the end of his collegiate experience. And so as Harriet walks home after being let go, Malcolm - having leapt to his death - literally lands on top of her.
Both improbably survive, news which Malcolm takes as a sign Harriet can save him. And while he's not innocent, a plea for jury nullification could at least keep him from going to jail. Harriet reluctantly agrees and he becomes the first client at her new practice, a tiny office that used to be a shoe store. It's news that particularly excites Harriet's assistant, Jenna Backstrom (Brittany Snow), as the former tenants left behind most of their inventory. In any case, it turns out Malcolm is actually a former student of Matthew's, news which Matthew likewise takes as a sign Harriet can save him as well.
It seems he's dug himself even more of a hole as a meeting with the local pastor (apologies as I didn't recognize the actor) goes horribly wrong and Matthew's affront to God is suddenly front page news. And while normally Matthew would tuck tail and run and take a job elsewhere, the arrival of Eve (Beatrice Rosen), the school's new French teacher (herself literally from France), has him smitten. She's impressed by Matthew's convictions and he finds himself wanting to stay and fight. But after some bad decisions following a night out drinking, the appearance of a dead body (no, I'm not joking) could irrevocably destroy his life once and for all.
What works: It's got all the hallmarks of a David E. Kelley show: random quirkiness (Harriet's practice literally becomes a law/shoe store; Paul McCrane's prosecutor repeats virtually everything he says twice), unapologetic political soapboxing (the teaching of evolution to students) and a rascally take on the human condition (Harriet: "Why didn't you practice?" Matthew: "I don't know, it didn't seem to be much about justice I suppose.") Now if it...
What doesn't: ...weren't so all over the place. A weird mismatch of tone and spirit, "Law" has everything from "Pushing Daisies"-esque narration by Matthew, dead bodies turning up in trunks and a silly fascination with shoes, all of which makes it impossible to get a bead on what this show is exactly about. Early on it seems to revolve around the storybook intersection of our heroes which turns into a sad commentary on the hopelessness of sticking to ones principals (and the ridiculousness of those who attack them) which turns into a murder mystery. Making it even harder is the ill-defined characterizations of the leads: Harriet is supposed to be an idealist, her spark trampled out by a career working for the man, given a second chance in this new practice, and yet she spends virtually the entire hour walking around defeated, needing to be awoken from her sleep.
Matthew is supposed to be a closet idealist himself, a kind heart who's gotten caught up in a silly controversy he doesn't want to be a part of, and yet the strange, head-scratching choices he makes in the closing acts have no basis. And Malcolm, who's supposed to be the bad-kid-turned-good, whose life is about to be ruined by getting a third strike, he never seems to exude anything but conviction and kindness, making one wonder how he just recently lapsed back into drug use, let alone wanted to kill himself. All in all, we're never really given the tools to understand these characters and the choices they make. It's all just kind of thrown together, much like the various twists and turns the show takes. And so with a potential reset button looming with its recasting...
The bottom line: ...let's hope they press it.