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The Whole Truth Pilot

September 23rd, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

The Whole Truth promises to suffer from an identification problem.

Law and Order constructs the district attorneys as wonderful crusaders for justice, putting evildoers behind bars. Granted, the DAs occasionally get it wrong, and go after an innocent man or woman, but these are posed as rare instances. And their opposing council are nearly always turds, bleeding heart liberal annoyances, and/or cynical amoral individuals out for a quick buck or fame. Outlaw, on the other hand, will frame Jimmy Smit’s Cyrus Garza as a protector of the maligned and as someone who makes the plotting cruel system accountable by giving them a voice and hence frustrating The Man’s oppression of the little guy. Again, occasionally he’ll defend a guilty party, but his basic moral mission will remain intact. And along the way, he’ll face down prosecutors who want the whole world behind bars, who don’t realize racism when they see it, and so forth.

What The Whole Truth wants, though, is for us to identify with both lawyers in every case. They obviously can’t both be right. So instead, each week, one of our two leads is going to be backing the wrong horse. For a few episodes, I could see this working alright, as we allow that they’re just duped occasionally, but once we realize that Maura Tierney is on a rampage through innocent victims of the system, and Rob Morrow is regularly defending murderers, rapists, and so forth, and that they do so continually, what will become of audience identification with them? The casting is wise in this respect, as they’re both likable actors: what’s not to like about Abi from ER and Dr. Joel Fleischman from Northern Exposure? They come to us intertextually built for identification.

But surely it’ll be hard to continue feeling for either of them when we see Tierney ask for hate crime status erroneously, as in this episode, or when we see Morrow try every little trick to get the kind of guy who sleeps with prostitutes and goes after his students when his wife is dying of cancer, as in this episode. Especially if each episode (or even just some of them) end as does the pilot, with the two chatting about watching Chinatown over a drink, oblivious to the fact that someone Morrow thought was innocent could be in jail for life, or no doubt in future weeks, to the fact that Tierney’s just let a killer go loose. While I want to celebrate a show that doesn’t reduce everything to the simple “right vs. wrong,” “two sides of every story” binaristic view of the world, and while I’d love if the show could really challenge the morals and ethics of the business, ultimately it seems to be bucking a golden rule of lawyer dramas, which is that we need to be able to root for good guys going after bad guys, and doing so without enough sign that it will actually embrace moral ambiguity (if for no other reason than the show’s set-up seems to promise a “right” and “wrong” side to each case each week).

Add to this a rather poorly filmed show (too many quick edits, insulting flashbacks to earlier testimony in the closing arguments [do they honestly think I forgot what happened five minutes ago on screen?]), and I have little faith in this show either doing well in the long run with a wide audience, or in it giving me much either. So I think I’ll pass. Sorry Abi and Joel.

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The Freshman TV Class of 2010-2011, Part 3: Procedurals

May 30th, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

Note to network TV: there are already enough procedurals. CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Criminal Minds, Law and Order: SVU, Bones, House, The Good Wife, Medium, The Mentalist, NCIS, NCIS: LA, and (debatably) Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice are enough. Really. CBS, I’m talking to you in particular.

Perhaps I should’ve sent out the note before the Upfronts, since procedurals are all the rage for next year, with 4.5 new lawyer procedurals, 5.5 new cop procedurals, and 2 new doctor procedurals.  Instead of breaking them down by network, let’s look at them in those terms:

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“I Didn’t Do It!”: Lawyer Shows

Outlaw and Harry’s Law should both be treated together, since their trailers were clearly cut from the same cloth. Both star a biggish name talent (Jimmy Smits and Kathy Bates respectively) as successful individuals who tire of their regular job and hence who change gears to help a poor, innocent African-American in their first case. Both are serious with a touch of sass, both are transformed into better humans by their experiences, and both want their own Green Mile moments. Both shows count on the talents of their stars, but Smits was unable to pull the trick with Cane, even with Nestor Carbonell at his side, and Harry’s Law risks splitting the vote with The Good Wife or losing out to it since the latter is a better show by most appearances. Consider me bored on both accounts, though with David E. Kelley behind Harry’s Law, maybe it’ll do better than I think, and become more funny and charming than it seems at present?

The Defenders’ claim that few lawyer shows depict the defense seems somewhat amusing in the context of a season with these other shows, and as much as I will always love Stand By Me, Jerry O’Connell is no Jimmy Smits or Kathy Bates, and Jim Belushi delivered his best performance in K9, which isn’t saying much. Amusingly in the trailer, after Belushi notes O’Connell’s strength as a comedian, O’Connell deadpans that he signed on largely for the experience of working with Belushi – a great joke if ever I heard one. I’d schedule the wrap party for this one early in the season, though I would’ve said the same with According to Jim, so maybe the Belushi Protection Society will keep this one on a feeding tube for a while longer. It’s unclear if it means to be funny or serious, both or neither, so it’s tonally vapid … in addition to seeming boring.

The Whole Truth promises the seemingly bold move of offering both sides of a case. But we’ve seen this before, and if the trailer’s anything to go by, this will result in head-spinning and/or gimmicky back-and-forth editing that could wear thin by the end of the second episode. Rob Morrow stars, but his former affability seems lost in an attempt to be a big boy lawyer. Once again, I’m unimpressed.

And, crossing the cop/lawer boundary is Law and Order: Los Angeles. There’s no trailer here, just a CGI teaser, so it’s hard to judge. But perhaps the tired, dead, horse-kicking series needs the jolt of a new visual style and a new location. Alternately, perhaps we’ve all seen LA in way too many crime dramas and cop shows already. I refuse to judge at this point.

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“Book ‘em, Danno!”: Cop Shows

After falling for Lost’s Jin and Sun something fierce, it’s hard not to be intrigued by Daniel Dae Kim’s latest outing, Hawaii Five-O. With Grace Park costarring, no less, it’s a perfect fan Lost/BSG collision. The trailer didn’t do much for me, and suggested little more than a regular cop show, without the CGI bells and whistles that the CSI franchise brought into the picture. But it’ll have the advantage of a great location in Hawaii, and if they use that location and film it half as well as the folks at Lost did, it might at least pull a CSI: Miami and look too beautiful to cancel. Meanwhile, I owe Daniel Dae Kim at least a couple of episodes of watching.

CBS, ever mindful of their need to program 80% procedurals, has also commissioned an as-yet-unnamed Criminal Minds spinoff, which just seems wrong. No network should be allowed more than two cop show franchises. Surely there are only so many 50 year-old guys in the country and eventually their supply as viewers will run out? No trailer, just a premise, and an uninspiring one at that.

Bound to have more edge is FOX’s Ride-Along, from The Shield’s Shawn Ryan. Set in Chicago with a distinct Southland feel to it, it might be a good test of whether NBC just flubbed the delivery with Southland or whether it was the audience’s fault all along. At the same time, ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7 tries to offer a similarly gritty, NYPD Blue meets The Wire image of Detroit, starring Michael Imperioli. Both shows clearly have pretensions of being life-like, cutting-edge, and finger-on-the-pulse, and the latter in particular has an appealing visual style. Whether network TV can pull off this level of realism remains to be seen, and I’d rather hold judgment till I’ve seen more.

Finally, Chase follows a team of US Marshals led by a tough, kickass woman. Jerry Bruckheimer produced, yet penned by Jennifer Johnson. It’s a reasonably well-edited trailer, promising intrigue, action, and tough cookies, but see the note that opens this post to see why I’m unlikely to care.

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“Ouch!”: Doctor Shows

After NBC’s Mercy and Trauma were tossed from their steeds this year, ABC is offering its own pair of medical dramas, no doubt buoyed by its success with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, and hence sure that it can do better.

Body of Proof seems to have been made by the same team who did the Harry’s Law and Outlaw trailers, or at least written by the same machine. Many years after leaving China Beach, Dana Delany’s back headlining her own medical drama, as a neurosurgeon who has to leave her job and become a medical examiner. The former automaton now finds her humanity with corpses. If that irony sounds too heavy-handed to you, you’re not alone, so I propose that if the first four episodes repeat the irony more than twice, the show is dead to me.

Off the Map is the more intriguing offering, from ABC’s own Shonda Rhimes and co-writers, starring Wonderfalls’ Caroline Dharvernas, yet set in the South American jungle in a Medicins Sans Frontiers set-up. I repeat my interest in shows filmed and set outside the US, and hence hope that it works, but as with Outsourced, I worry about the significant potential for it to reel out stereotype after Othering after boneheaded prejudice. Let’s hope it pulls it off and avoids those ailments. It’s also interesting to see a trailer for a Rhimes production that doesn’t put the sexual intrigue first and foremost. I’m still skeptical, but at least I’m curious too.

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And those are the procedurals. For our last installment, I’ll discuss other dramas (and dramedies).

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