Tube talk: Harry’s Law

I started watching Harry’s Law on NBC for one reason: David E. Kelley. The man created Boston Legal, one of my favorite shows in recent memory, so I figured if he could start a new show with even half the magic of that show I’d be a happy man. After eight episodes, I’m… well I’m sort of happy.

It seems clear to me that Harry’s Law is Kelley’s attempt to continue in the same vein as Boston Legal, so much so that I’m surprised he didn’t just call it Cincinnati Legal. It’s a legal dramedy with some really eccentric characters and a generous heaping of speechifying about social justice. Regarding the latter aspect, I became used to the increasingly preachy tone Boston Legal struck in its last few seasons even though I wasn’t a huge fan. So I’m not surprised that I’ve already been treated to a cases involving the evil fast food industry, ageism in the workplace, judicial bias against African-Americans, and most recently a group of albino Tanzanians.

But about the characters — so far I’m not all that impressed. The star of the show is presumably Kathy Bates, who plays a former patent attorney named Harriet “Harry” Korn. Yikes, that’s an unfortunate name choice. Anyway, Bates is typically a lot of fun to watch but in this show she’s just this joyless gray lump. She lurches from one scene to the next with all the vigor of a med school cadaver. The only time you know her character feels any passion at all is when she raises her voice slightly. That’s a problem. A big problem.

The rest of the characters are, at best, uneven. Adam Branch (Nate Corddry) and Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen) are a lawyer and paralegal at Harry’s law firm, and are probably the most interesting people in the building. Adam can be a wet blanket from time to time, but Malcolm’s struggle to overcome his troubled past have already made for some of the show’s best moments.

The fourth character in the office, Jenna Backstrom (Brittany Snow), has already outlived her usefulness to me. She runs the shoe store portion of Harry’s law office — don’t ask — and every attempt the writers (mostly Kelley so far) have made to give her some added dimension have fallen flat. She’s like a much less appealing version of Reese Witherspoon’s character from Legally Blonde.

The saving grace of Harry’s Law has actually turned out to be someone who I have to think was meant to be a secondary character at first. Thomas “Tommy” Jefferson (Christopher McDonald) is nothing less than Denny Crane before he started to lose his mind. He’s arrogant, boastful, vain, and deeply insecure. He pretty much owns any scene he’s in, and I’ve gotten the most laughs from him by a mile. Kelley should really just find an excuse to have Harry’s office burn down or something, and have everyone relocate to Tommy’s building.

I think it’s still too early to tell if Harry’s Law will turn out to be a show worth keeping around, but I’m still watching so I guess that says something, right? But season two, assuming there is one, will need to bring some pretty substantial improvements with it.

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