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  • TV Review: Harry’s Law

    January 19th, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    I tell my writers that creating their own voice is what’s going to set them apart, get them noticed, and give them a longstanding career. There are very few names in drama television – as far as writer/producers go – where their voice is known throughout the land and their names truly mean something to the viewing public (and not just those of us living and working in Hollywood). Sorkin, Milch, Chase, Wells…and Kelley.

    Their voices live on in some of the greatest characters and lines of dialogue ever written. Their names are to be revered. They are to be studied. They are to be loved. 

    But sometimes…some of these names need to be told …No. And this is much the case with David E. Kelley’s new show “Harry’s Law,” which premiered to pretty decent numbers on Monday night and as number 1 in the demo in their hour.

    Let me say this first – “Doogie Howser” and “LA Law” were two of the first adult shows I remember watching with my parents (along with “Dallas” and “Three’s Company”) and it made me not just love television – but love law as well. “Picket Fences,” though not as flashy as his other shows, was the one my family used to gather together to watch and I always loved it (and it launched Don Cheadle’s career). Then came “Chicago Hope,” which began my love affairs with Mandy Patinkin, Peter MacNicol and Christine Lahti and launched the career of Peter Berg among others. I can still remember singing along with Mandy and bawling my eyes out in the episode where (ten year old spoiler alert) Peter MacNicol’s character dies.  

    “The Practice” is in my top 10 all-time favorite shows without a doubt – total appointment television – and made me a huge Camryn Manheim fan. “Ally McBeal” will always have a fond Vonda Shephard place in my heart. Even “Boston Legal,” my least favorite of his shows, was still entertaining and quirky. And “Boston Public,” was my network television debut as I was an extra in two episodes and got to meet the cast (my friend worked on the show), but it made me love TV even more being a tiny part of it.

    So it’s with great sadness and reverence that I say that David E. Kelley has jumped the shark and I think someone needs to tell him…NO. His newest rehashing of old quirks and gimmicks and verbose leftwing soapbox rhetoric just doesn’t live up. Despite a convincing performance by Academy Award winner Kathy Bates, the rest of the show is just….silly. And not GOOD entertainment silly like Ally McBeal. Not SO over the top silly that it’s actually funny like Boston Legal. It’s just….silly.

    First off, he moved the show’s location to Cincinnati and yet the streets look exactly the same as his Boston sets. And I kind of feel the city’s location was whispered as it gave Kelley a pain in his heart not to say Boston in the first few words of dialogue. And there’s nothing interesting about Cincinnati

    Second, while I love Brittany Snow and I was a fan of Nate Cordry’s when he was on Sorkin’s “Studio 60”, I don’t think either of them have the depth of talent or consistency of timing YET to pull of Kelley’s awkwardly paced quirky dialogue and this was most evident in Cordry’s courtroom scene where he just keeps going on (louder and louder) without realizing he’s trying too hard. And we can see it.

    The beauty of Peter MacNicol, Greg German, John Larroquette or Camryn Manheim is that their characters’ quirks and ticks, mannerisms and timing were just…natural. They didn’t feel like they were trying to hit the mark how Kelley told them to. And the actors of Harry’s Law have not worked out the kinks yet. Now, Nate Cordry took over for Ben Chaplin (who was in the pilot when it was bought and whom I can’t see being funny at all), so perhaps it will just take some time.

    But the quirks themselves – guest star Paul McCrane’s double speak stammer, Cordry’s rapid fire courtroom shtick, Bates’ gun-toting potty mouth, Christopher MacDonald’s grandiose flashyness, Snow’s love of fashion, and every black thug character’s heart of gold – he’s done it all before. And the whole Law Firm/Shoe Store gag – it was done much better with the bowling alley law firm on NBC’s “Ed” a few years back (which btw launched the careers of Justin Long, Gennifer Goodwin and Julie Bowen and was a more heartfelt show).

    And this time around, it feels like David E. Kelley would rather grandstand about his favorite issue of the day then tell a story and make us laugh or care or think. He’d rather pummel us with liberal bias, the same types of rants that got Studio 60 cancelled after one season.

    So if I was NBC, I’d tell Kelley to take a week off and go observe people who are different from him – not liberal, not lawyers, not in Hollywood – and come back with some new stories, new quirks, new characters, and new ideas. Otherwise, Harry’s Law is going to be found guilty of the worst crime in television – unoriginality. And the sentence is one 13-episode season.

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