Friday, January 21, 2011

Pilot Review: Harry’s Law

Harry’s Law (NBC)
Premiered January 17 at 10pm

Kathy Bates is the latest Oscar-winning movie actress to try settling in a weekly television role. Bates has already been a visitor this past year to another NBC show, “The Office,” as a fearsome CEO Jo Bennett. Now, she’s Harriet, a lawyer who is fired from her steady job and decides to take on a more uncertain career path – a criminal law practice with a shop set up in a terrible neighborhood. Her new office just happens to be a former shoe store whose owner has left a good number of quality shoes on the premises, something which greatly excites Harriet’s smiley young assistant (Brittany Snow). That happenstance setting is appropriately quirky for a David E. Kelley show. The showrunner ran the successful law drama “The Practice” for eight years before shifting entirely to create the self-referential and highly peculiar “Boston Legal,” a show which I very much did not like. This show doesn’t quite parallel the insanity and inanity of his previous project, but what it lacks in absurdity it also lacks in appeal. I would much rather watch a show about Jo Bennett than about Harriet. The character is supposed to be a force to be reckoned with, like some of the best TV lawyers in recent history, perhaps like a sarcastic and less dangerous Patty Hewes. In the pilot, Harriet just doesn’t come off as all that interesting, and more often than not, she seems befuddled by her situation. Snow has little to do other than sell shoes, and Rob Corddry, who was great on Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” plays it way over-the-top as a lawyer who abruptly picks up and leaves his stable day job to join up with Harriet after he hits her with his car. The pilot’s main case involves far too much preaching to the jury that is hardly original and highly annoying. The show takes far too many liberties in its storytelling that Kelley has learned he can get away with in the past. At this point, however, I don’t think this show is the proper vehicle to execute those daring and ultimately disappointing attempts at creating innovative television.

How will it work as a series? Far-out cases are sure to pop up in nearly every episode, and Harriet will be honing her skills as a criminal lawyer as she uses her considerable charm to miraculously win her cases. I think the ensemble especially needs much work, since both Corddry and Snow need to be taken advantage of in a much better way if they’re going to be compelling characters.
How long will it last? It is Kathy Bates, after all, so perhaps it might have a bit of a future, especially considering Kelley’s track record. NBC is still a bit shaky on its 10pm programming, so my guess is that they’ll want to see this one through for a bit, though at this juncture I’m not ready to predict that it will live to see a second season.

Pilot grade: C-

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