It's hard not to root for Jimmy Smits, especially in a crusading public servant role. Whether as presidential candidate Matt Santos on The West Wing
or even the dark Miguel Prado on Dexter
, Smits has the ability to craft gritty, multidimensional leaders out of his characters. But his latest project, Outlaw
, which hits NBC tonight before moving to its regular Friday night slot, succeeds in breaking that streak. And not much else.
What's wrong with Outlaw
, exactly? Unfortunately, this is one of those instances in which naming what's right
would be more efficient. (There's only one item on the list: See the aforementioned affections for Jimmy Smits, who sincerely does his best with the material he's given here.) Pretty much everything else about the show is an open and shut case ... for cancellation.
Premise: Smits plays Cyrus Garza
, a conservative "Switzerland"-type Supreme Court Justice
who, through some combination of guilt over his liberal crusader father's untimely death, his own growing gambling debts and a general sense of disgust with the "status quo," has the kind of epiphany that only happens on a TV pilot: He's going all liberal on everyone's asses and resigning from the Supreme Court because he's "ready to change it," by working as a private lawyer on long shot cases for the downtrodden and disenfranchised. He's ready to fight for justice and make the law work for the little guy.
If it sounds like he'd probably enact bigger and better progress on those goals from behind
the Supreme Court bench, you're right. But we're in the real world. And Garza's a risk-taker and a rebel! (Dare I say ... maverick
?) We know that because of all the gambling, and the no wife-ness, and the angry speechifying, and the unprofessional come-ons to every female colleague. ("How did he get confirmed in the first place?" I told you, stop thinking like a real-worlder!) So Garza's going to work outside the system (but really, still inside the system) to change the system. And he's also kind of a jerk who runs mostly on impulse and his self-righteous gut reactions about what's "right." OUTLAW
! Get it?
As any leader must, Garza surrounds himself with a ragtag team of talented cliche types
who banter, bicker and alternately get him in trouble and save his ass over and over again.
Meet the gang: There's Lucinda
(Carly Pope), a narcissistic P.I. who thinks she's just so clever and is asking for a punch from this writer if she won't stop talking about her boobs for a minute and just do her job
(Jesse Bradford), an uptight Yale alum who says things like "Can we get that in writing?" to Lucinda's contrived sexual references (yuck, yuck); Mereta
(Ellen Woglom), Garza's loyal, bubbly assistant who, for reasons beyond explanation, is head over high heels in love with him; and Al
(played by Smits' fellow Dexter
alum David Ramsay) Garza's liberal best friend who is the yin to his yang; the ego to his id; the brains to his balls, and so forth. They're only one antisocial nerd shy from a full-blown Breakfast Club!
(Except that movie's awesome, and even its high schoolers were more complex and fleshed-out than these paperthin punchlines to all those lawyer jokes your dad knows.)
As preposterous as the premise and the cast of characters may be, they're par for the course on lawyer shows, and could still easily be saved by compelling stories and engaging dialogue. But we've got neither.
Garza is perpetually saying lofty lawyer-esque things that either make no sense or are just flat-out wrong. I literally laughed out loud when he looked at Eddie knowingly and imparted, "Following the rules doesn't always lead to justice. When that happens, you've got to change the rules." ("Write that down."
Garza's first case involves proving the innocence of a man on death row. Suspense could have lived in that story if I hadn't been able to spot the real murderer in the first five minutes and lost interest in the team's boring hunt for evidence ("Just how cold was it
in that basement of that one building eleven years ago?! I need to know!" I never once said to myself
) in all the minutes after that.Verdict:
After he wins his first case (sidenote: Wouldn't it have been infinitely more interesting if he'd lost?) the wife of Garza's first client hands him a St. Jude's necklace: The patron saint of lost causes. I love you, Jimmy Smits, but I hope they let you keep that prop full time. You'll need it as long as you're on Outlaw
If you still want to give Outlaw
a shot (do it for good ol' Jimmy, or for some "Wow, this really is that terrible" laughs), you've got two chances this week: The pilot airs tonight (Wednesday) at 10pm, and once again at 10pm on Friday night, where the show will live full-time--at least for now.
(Image courtesy of NBC)