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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! 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.]
MADE IN JERSEY (CBS)
(written by Dana Calvo; directed by Mark Waters; TRT: 41:56)
The network's description: "MADE IN JERSEY is a drama about a young working-class woman who uses her street smarts to compete among her pedigreed Manhattan colleagues at a prestigious New York law firm. Martina Garretti (Janet Montgomery) finds her firm's cutthroat landscape challenging, but what she lacks in an Ivy League education she more than makes up for with tenacity and blue-collar insight. After just a few weeks, firm founder Donovan Stark (Kyle MacLachlan), takes note of Martina's ingenuity and resourcefulness, as does her sassy secretary Cyndi Vega (Toni Trucks).
With the support of her big Italian family, including her sexy older sister Bonnie (Erin Cummings), Martina is able to stay true to her roots as a bold, passionate lawyer on the rise in a new intimidating environment. Jamie Tarses, Kevin Falls, Julia Franz and Mark Waters, who also directed the pilot, are the executive producers for Sony Pictures Television in association with CBS Television Studios. Pilot was written by creator and co-executive producer Dana Calvo."
What did they leave out? Look for some post-pilot cast shuffling as Kristoffer Polaha and Megalyn Echikunwoke are in while Pablo Schreiber and Stephanie March are out. Also, the show's original moniker was "Baby Big Shot."
The plot in a nutshell: It's been four weeks since New Jersey prosecutor Martina Garretti (Janet Montgomery) joined Manhattan's prestigious firm of Stark & Rowan and she has yet to make her mark. That however all changes when her street smarts manage to impress Donovan Stark (Kyle MacLachlan), as only an unabashed Jersey girl would know pliers aren't a murder weapon, they're used to zip up skinny jeans. Her reward: being named third chair on a high-profile murder case involving a co-ed being charged with killing her professor. Said development bristles the more uptown second chair, Natalie Minka (Stephanie March), while first chair Luke Aaronson (Pablo Schreiber) is only concerned with the task at hand.
And with that Martina puts her unvarnished skills to work, doggedly punching holes in the prosecution's evidence and timeline, not to mention providing her own suspects. Along the way she's aided by the firm's in-house investigator River Brody (Felix Solis), who's likewise astonished by her abilities; her secretary Cyndi Vega (Toni Trucks), who senses a kindred spirit; and her perennially embarrassing family, whether it's her uncensored mother (the always welcome Donna Murphy) or knockout older sister/single mom Bonnie (Erin Cummings). Nevertheless, despite her string of successes, Martina is racked with self-doubt about whether she belongs in this world. Said facet comes to a head when she's entrusted with a particularly risky cross-examination in the courtroom. The end result: well, it's a TV show folks.
What works: There's a cleanly executed throughline to the case of the week, giving a solid momentum to its proceedings. The pilot definitely establishes "Made in Jersey" as a show, a feat the proves to be easier said than done if you've watched enough of these. The problem is...
What doesn't: ..."Jersey" is painfully superficial and obvious, as Martina is the legal messiah from across the tracks, sent to educate the hoity-toity Manhattan masses. There's nary a problem Martina can't solve thanks to the lessons of her hardscrabble life as her colleagues surprisingly have managed to bathe and dress themselves by comparison. She's brought her gun-like brain to a legal knife fight and there's no question who will be the victor. I get that a modicum of this is necessary to establish Martina's credibility but by act two one wouldn't be shocked to see her land planes and find the Higgs boson. It's not that Martina - or by extension Montgomery - aren't likeable, it's just her self-doubt in light of the above feels remarkably silly.
Not helping matters is that the Garretti clan is a running checklist of Jersey cliches, from her family's bombastic nature (Martina: "They put me on a case already, third chair." Everyone: "Oooooooohhhhhhhh!"); to Martina's Swiss Army Knife-esque purse (she can create entire outfits on the fly!); to her mother's relationship meddling ("You're never going to get a mink standing at the sink."); and every sprayed hair and manicured nail in between. But don't patronize or condescend to her as a result of said traits: she's always armed with the perfect comeback (Natalie: "I saw you downstairs but I didn't want to interrupt 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey.'" Martina: "Ha, that's only funny because my sister would love to be a housewife but she's single mom who works full time."). In the end, while it's a show, the stacked deck in Martina's favor...
The bottom line: ...makes it an eye-rolling hour of television.