The bar is set incredibly high when it comes to a new David E. Kelley show about lawyers. After ruling the genre for 10 years with Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal, it’s impossible not to compare his new show, Harry’s Law, (premiering tonight at 10pm on NBC) to those.
Sadly, by that standard, Harry’s Law is a colossal failure. While Kelley’s previous shows featured some of the most interesting and engaging characters in all of television, the people on Harry’s Law lay their like a bunch of dead fish.
The show revolves around Harriet “Harry” Korn (Kathy Bates), a successful patent lawyer who gets bored with her job, gets fired, and then has two near-death experiences. She decides to open her own practice in the slums of Cincinnati, using am office formerly occupied by a shoe store.
Harry’s little practice slowly grows with her faithful, shoe-loving secretary, a client who becomes her paralegal, and a fellow lawyer who leaves his firm to team up with the legendary Harry.
The problem with Harry’s Law begins with the performance of Kathy Bates. The woman may be an Oscar winner, but she’s tragically miscast as the frumpy lawyer who reminds me of a severely watered down Shirley Schmidt. Harry seems to have no personality and no passion, which is a fatal flaw none of Kelley’s previous shows had. Ally McBeal was a hopeless romantic. Bobby Donnell was devoted to the law above all else. And Alan Shore was obsessed with his own happiness. Harry Korn, however, is a tired old lady who waddles around a courtroom with no real convictions.
The problem extends to the supporting cast, particularly Nate Corddry as lawyer Adam Branch. He’s a bit like a young Alan Shore, only without the cynicism or brilliant acting skills of James Spader. The similarities are suspiciously strong when Adam has his day in court and delivers a Shore-worthy diatribe about the judicial process. Instead of being impressed, I only realized that Spader really did deserve to win all those Emmys.
Aside from the characters, there’s also the problem of Kelley’s increasingly fanatical political agenda. In the pilot, Harry and her opponent in court have a lengthy debate about incarceration vs. treatment to solve the drug problem, which is fine, except for the fact that they have the debate in the middle of a witness’s testimony during the trial. It’s like the show took a time out to bring you an op-ed by David E. Kelley. It was cute in his previous shows, but here, there’s no entertaining, brilliant performances surrounding it to make the message go down smoother.
Perhaps the only saving grace comes from a guest performance by Paul McCrane as the prosecutor. He’s a wacky yet brilliant lawyer who speaks repetitively, quickly and repetitively. During the pilot, I kept wishing I was watching a show all about that character, who embodies everything I love about David E. Kelley as a writer.
Overall, Harry’s Law is a bad dream, a David E. Kelley show with all of the pieces but none of the soul. It feels like Kelley is attempting to reclaim his former glory, only to wind up with a pale imitation of the original.
(Image courtesy of NBC)