TV Review: Kathy Bates, David E. Kelley Team For NBC’s ‘Harry’s Law’
CHICAGO – David E. Kelley (“The Practice,” “Boston Legal”) is a fantastic TV writer. Kathy Bates (“Misery,” “About Schmidt”) is a versatile actress. Neither of these statements would seem true if the only thing one saw of their work was their collaboration on NBC’s abysmal “Harry’s Law,” a legal drama with almost no redeeming value that is likely to be canceled before the Spring. NBC has struggled on Mondays for a few years now. That’s not about to change.
TV Rating: 1.5/5.0
Kelley’s trademark wit feels as forced as ever in the series premiere of his latest legal dramedy, another piece about the quirky side of the law. How quirky? Harriet Korn (Kathy Bates) is introduced in a garbage-filled office smoking a joint. A few minutes later, as Korn walks away from being fired from her job as a patent attorney, a young man jumps from the 6th floor of a building in a suicide attempt (do they not have skyscrapers in Cincinnati?) and literally lands on “Harry.” Guess what? The jumper becomes Harry’s first client at her new legal practice on “the wrong side of town.” Kelley has so exhausted himself with ideas as to how to start new cases that he’s literally dropping clients from the sky.
Photo credit: NBC
Believe it or not, it gets worse. Shortly after becoming a human safety net, Harry gets hit by a car. Of course, the driver turns out to be an old courtroom adversary (Nate Corddry), who joins her new firm. With the fast-talking new guy and the gorgeous assistant (Brittany Snow), who loves the fact that their storefront office still has the designer shoes from the last occupants, Harry goes to fight for the little man. Naturally, the fight includes a number of Kelley creations, including a lawyer who says almost everything twice. Kelley loves to put his stamp on things but it’s a problem when “Harry’s Law” plays more like a parody of past Kelley shows than anything else.
Photo credit: NBC
The engaging Snow and the energetic Corddry provide briefly entertaining moments as they devour Kelley’s still-sometimes-clever dialogue but Bates can’t hide the fact that she just doesn’t care. Created as a vehicle for a male (reportedly Lewis Black, which might have made for a more interesting program), Bates gives one of the most apathetic performances I’ve seen in a long time. You can practically see her checking her watch. While it may be the fault of a script that she could tell was problematic at best, she probably should never have signed on if she couldn’t even fake interest.
As for that script, the premiere is a doozy. The dialogue, plot, characters — it all reeks of desperation to be different. Kelley has a lot of experience writing unique legal cases but there’s a difference between unusual and desperately quirky. “Harry’s Law” is the latter in every way. It doesn’t help that the environment feels completely false. The show is reportedly set in a dangerous part of Cincinnati but it is one of the most obvious backlot-shot programs in TV history. As Corddry’s character walks to his new office, he is supposedly shocked by the drugs, prostitutes, and general grime, but it looks no scarier than a ride at Universal Studios. It’s laughably unrealistic.
While that may sound like an unnecessary criticism, the extreme cases of programs like “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice” worked because we cared about the characters and the world in which they lived. Neither is true on “Harry’s Law” and so the Kelley brand of clever feels way more desperate than entertaining with no backdrop to offset it.
With the horrendous “The Cape” followed by this mess, one has to wonder what the heck is going on at the peacock network? Is it the ripple effect of “The Jay Leno Show” debacle? Perhaps writers actually fled the network that made it clear they weren’t wanted by scheduling five hours of a talk show in primetime? It may take some time for NBC to find its groove again. Based on the two new shows they’ve delivered in 2010 (and…not to spoil anything…the pattern doesn’t change with the unfunny “Perfect Couples,” which we’ll review later this week), it could be a long time.