Monday, January 9, 2012

Pilot Review: The Firm

The Firm (Thursdays at 10:00 on NBC)

NBC's newest legal drama The Firm is a pitch-perfect practice in absolute mediocrity.

Let's get this out of the way before anything else: what is the point of this show? Is there really a need, or even a desire, for a weekly series based on a book that's 20 years old and a film nearly that age? Why even attach this show to the title The Firm when it bears almost no resemblance to the Grisham novel or Tom Cruise film?

The pilot picks up ten years after the events of the 1993 film. Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas in his first regular TV gig) has opened his own legal practice in Washington, D.C. after running from the mob since the events in Memphis. He now has a daughter, and he and his family have recently left the Witness Protection program to take their chances. McDeere has (oddly) switched from financial to criminal law and is taking on a large amount of pro bono work, thanks to a judge who admires his character. Tagging along are McDeere's faithful secretary (Juliette Lewis) and brother (Callum Keith Rennie), his own personal private investigator. Just as McDeere thinks things are getting better.... "it's happening again." The mob comes after McDeere again, led by the former boss's son, and McDeere joins a shady new firm.

If you have not seen the film The Firm or read the book on which it is based then you will likely be confused by all the allusion to its events. There are some helpful flashbacks to keep newcomers in the loop, but they aren't enough to fully understand the nuance of Mitch as a character.

Then again, if you have seen the film or read the book, as I have, then you'll likely still be confused, albeit for a different reason. The confusion for those familiar with the source material lies in the reworking of this sequel to a work that didn't need one in the first place. Not only that, but this series bears only a passing resemblance to its parent. Mitch McDeere is hardly the same character; he's not a young, charismatic financial specialist anymore, but a run-of-the-mill defense attorney that can be found on any law show on television in any country. Why not just rework the original idea into a series, rather than this sequel? I mean, what are the odds that an intelligent man like McDeere would fall for the whole evil firm thing twice? Especially just months after exiting Witness Protection? The repetition turns the characters into idiots and moves them further away from their original incarnations. What has happened is that The Firm has been turned into a standard legal drama, with a case-of-the-week format and a season-long storyline, but with familiar names and a semi-familiar title.

Aside from the kind-of stupidity of this show's existence, the pilot is so mediocre that it's totally forgettable and totally unforgivable. Josh Lucas is bland as Mitch McDeere, proving why he's been in movie for a decade and never had a breakout turn. He's fine but not at all exciting and not nearly as charismatic as Tom Cruise originally was. Molly Parker (Deadwood) is just as forgettable as McDeere's wife, Abby; she isn't given much to do but be the voice of reason. Lewis and Rennie are similarly pushed to the sidelines with only a few scenes each and no discernible trace of true characters developed yet because of it. Lukas Reiter, a former writer for The Practice, has written an unevenly paced pilot without much of interest in it, and it is directed with average style and zero creativity by David Straiton (hour one) and Helen Shaver (hour two). The dialogue is either completely cliche or pompous whenever anyone is talking about the law. Within three minutes of the pilot's start, Lucas calls his wife on a pay phone to choke out, "It's happening again." I couldn't help but giggle, thinking of Bradley Cooper's character in The Hangover Part II uttering the exact same line before that film employed the exact same flashback technique as this series; the difference, of course, is that The Firm is not intentionally comedic, hence the problem.

Any intelligence that was once behind Grisham's book, the subsequent film, or any of their characters has vanished. Mitch McDeere has been downgraded to a standard TV lawyer, not to mention a complete idiot. Upon learning that a father has put a hit out on his teenage client, McDeere sends his PI brother to solicit the job rather than calling the police. It makes no sense from a logical standpoint, though it turns out to be the most interesting side-story in the entire two-hour pilot. That should tell you something about the show's prospects when the best portion of its first two episodes involve something so mind-bogglingly stupid. Besides that, the show is just middle of the road. The performances are dull but not lifeless; the courtroom cases are neither engaging nor totally boring. It's not good or bad, it's just painfully mediocre. In fact, The Firm is so mediocre that you probably won't be able to remember afterward whether or not you liked it. So better to act as if it doesn't exist.

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