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TV Review: Harry’s Law Doesn’t Do Hugs

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I have been excitedly anticipating the premiere of David E. Kelley’s new series, Harry’s Law. Not only was I a huge fan of Kelley’s The Practice and its parody-like spin-off, Boston Legal, but I adore the legendary Kathy Bates, who stars as Harriet ‘Harry’ Corn. Adding to my delight was the casting of Nate Corddry (Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, United States of Tara), whose credit list is still rather short, but who is a reliable delight, and whose career seems to be gaining steam. Having just finished watching the pilot, I was far from disappointed.

I expected Harry’s Law to be more like BL than TP, but that was not the case. It was a serious show, with just enough humor mixed in to make it enjoyable, as well as set it apart as different from the scores of other legal shows currently on the air. Admittedly, there were some outrageous moments, including the first five minutes, when Harry miraculously was uninjured in two serious accidents, and Corddry’s impassioned speech to the judge. Zany characters, such as the prosecutor who repeated himself, were kept low key enough to not be distracting. However, much of the show was Harry grumbling at the people who forced themselves into her life, intent on accompanying her on her new adventure.

Oh, did I forget to mention that there are Eli Stone elements? Not that Harry is finding god, but that she is embarking on something totally different from her life thus far, and finally finding herself, as well as meaning. After thirty-two years in patent law, Harry gets herself fired in less than a month when she stops caring. Granted, I am baffled that the firm didn’t try to fix her attitude, as she is billed as top of field, rather than just ditching her, but it was a necessary first step on her journey of self discovery.

I was further thrilled that the series is set in Cincinnati, Ohio. Though I have not lived in Ohio for a little over a year, I spent most of my life there until recently, and still love the state dearly. Sadly, I see little of the real Cincinnati in the sets, but I’ll give it time and the benefit of the doubt. The street set provides my only real complaint, though. The neighborhood Harry opens her new office in is supposed to be crime-laden, yet still looks beautiful, with well cared for green trees, and some of the cleanest stone buildings I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t the prop people make the street look at least a little dingy?

If it seems like I’m taking awhile to get to specifics of the show, it’s because this is a series hard to define. The real success isn’t in the broad scopes, but the details, which come heavy and fast. Harry’s world is a specific place, somewhere outside our own, but every bit as authentic.

As you may have heard, the actual office in Harry’s Law is a unique set. She now works in a shoe store. It was abandoned, with its stock, by the previous tenants. Harry wanted the shoes gone, but her assistant, Jenna (Brittany Snow, American Dreams) saw the value in the merchandise, and insisted on selling the footwear on the side. She even painted the storefront window to read ‘Harriet’s Law and Fine Shoes’. Will they restock once the current supply runs low? I hope so. Kelley has promised that Harry will face real growth should the show run for awhile, and will likely grow in power and clientele, making me fear the shoe element may be abandoned in a year or two. Might I suggest her shoe retail business grow with her? It’s a really charming element.

The shoe store is far from the only charm in this show, bursting at the seems with Kelley’s trademark handiwork. Both of Harry’s death defying stunts were not only humorous, but also served the purpose of introducing new characters. Adam (Corddry) hit her with a car, and insisted on working for her in atonement. The other accident was caused when Malcolm (Aml Ameen, The Bill) attempted to jump to his death, and landed on Harry instead. Malcolm ended up being Harry’s first case, and was hired on as a paralegal at the end of the episode. A unique way to introduce main cast.

I may be emphasizing the humor too much. There is a lot of heart here as well. Despite Harry insisting that she doesn’t do hugs, she found herself the recipient of a number of them. Number one on the list was because of her defense of Malcolm. She knew Malcolm was a lost cause, but made a last ditch effort to appeal to compassion. She hoped to turn one jury member in her favor, despite Malcolm undeniably falling on the wrong side of the law. Harry failed at that, but she did win over the judge. Harry puts up a show that she doesn’t care, but it’s a token move, as most everyone can see right through her. Harry is going to do the right thing, no matter what it costs her. How can you not like a character like that?

On Boston Legal, sometimes Kelley’s characters got up on their soapbox, arguing political views. Harry did the same in the pilot of Harry’s Law, making a plea for legalizing drugs. Yes, the message is liberal, though as Harry points out, it began as a conservative idea. As someone that mostly agrees with Mr. Kelley’s liberal agenda, I take heart at his preachy writing. However, on BL, the liberal Alan Shore was balanced by the conservative Denny Crane (though I admit Crane softened as the series went on). What Kelley seems to be trying to do now is to put both sides of the idealistic aisle in one person: Harry. It’s a delicate balance, one I assume will lean liberal a little more often, but I applaud the effort. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, and can see both sides of many issues. I like that Harry is a real character that can, too.

Fleshing out characters is something Kelley does extremely well. Not only are Harry and Adam well defined, helped along by extremely talented performers, but Jenna, Malcolm, and sympathetic neighborhood thug / self appointed security officer, Damien (Johnny Ray Gill), is, too. There is such a strong voice in this show, it’s hard not to be impressed. Kelley has certainly created another triumph.

Please do check out Harry’s Law, which is destined to be a great series. Good first night ratings make me optimistic that your time will be well invested. Harry’s Law airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • louise g

    Is this reviewer on the payroll? The show is just one cliche after the other. The humor isn’t funny, and the characters just paper cutouts. I am shocked that an actor of the quality of Kathy Bates would sign on to such schtick.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Nope, not any David E. Kelley payroll, but have been a fan of his for years. I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but I personally love it!

  • Alibeth

    I’m happy to find a positive review for this show. After missing Boston Legal for so long, I eagerly tuned in and was not disappointed. I’m a big fan of Kathy Bates, this is SO not beneath her, and the show’s quirkiness is welcome and FUN. Lighten up, people!

  • Jankavkee

    Great new show!! I laughed so hard when she got hit by the car…just too much bad luck in a single day. Kathy Bates carries the show and allows the entire cast to shine along with her. A pathological liar for a partner and a fashion hound for assistance…what’s not to love? It’s great to Kathy on the small screen…have been a fan since Fried Green Tomatoes.

  • annie

    Obviously when you’re not a person of color you don’t even notice the ridiculous and insulting stereotypes. I wanted to like this show and I did at first. But the minute the black guy who tried to commit suicide lamented to Kathy’s character that he was facing jail time for drugs or robbery or whatever and that it was his third offense and that he was the first in his family to go to college and how disappointed they would be if he didn’t save her I was already nauseas. By the time the other black guy rolled around trying to extort $200 a month from her for “security” I needed a toilet.

    It’s 2011, not 1950. I’m tired of watching shows written by people who have obviously never stepped outside of their own homogenous circle of friends.

  • judy

    Harry’s Law – lovely photography and production design, wonderful writing and direction. The show is 100% uplifting. And thanks for not drowning out the actors lines with unwanted music. It’s as though someone has finally decided to produce a show that’s easy to watch and appreciate.

  • Norm

    I loved “Boston Legal” and while “Harry’s Law” has its own spin, it’s refreshing and well written. Most importantly, it’s so much better than most of the junk now on network television (with exception of “The Good Wife” and a few others.) I hope this show survives.

  • Frank_PA

    The worst kind of Hollywood liberal clap-trap. Preachy, and silly. Sympathetic senior-citizen armed robber (Bush made me do it), bookie priests willing to violate the seal of confession and court-room speeches from Sophomore year. Yech!

  • Karen

    Wow. Mixed opinions here. I have to say I pretty much agree with both sides. Serious stereo typing, schmaltzy to shtick in 30 seconds flat, one liberal cliché after another, good triumphs over evil, blah, blah, blah… However, it is meant for entertainment. If you want hard hitting, gritty, true to live drama, turn on the news.(Although, here in Canada, that’s not really true to life either; maybe stick to Law and Order) At any rate, what is so bad about misting up a bit, only to have it cleared by an out-loud laugh? I don’t bother much with TV. It’s always on, but it’s just white noise. Until I noticed a commercial for this show. Being a Kathy Bates fan (yes, I’m a middle aged female) I thought, how bad can it be? Today I found myself with some free time so I sat down with my tablet to watch an episode. I ended up watching all three. These characters say and do what I think anyone has wished they could get away with at one time or another. The lines are delivered in such a way as to make you want to say “YES!!!” while mixing in just enough passive-aggression and condescension to make you feel a just little uncomfortable. This is no Pickett Fences. Nothing else ever will be. But it is entertainment and it’s great to see a female character turning down the filters just enough without coming off as a sanctimonious bitch. It’s one of the few new shows in years that I may actually commit too each week. That being said, it likely won’t make it past the 6 week mark. Without the hype of “Tom Selleck’s return to TV”, it’s likely doomed.

    All this being said, I found this review interesting.

    Maybe some of these brats whose parents can afford the $50,000.00/yr tuition could gain a little humanity by watching something like this. The author certainly needs to find it somewhere. (I did like that he gave the time and network a plug at the end though) And what is so bad about my demographic taking an hour a week to turn off our brains? We know it isn’t real, but goodness knows our brains spend the other 167 hours a week doing at least double time if we have at least one man or child in their lives. Lighten-up and enjoy it while it lasts.

  • janus2810

    To say this is anything but the worst piece of cliched drivel I have ever seen would be unfair. I have never seen anything like this. Did someone buy a paint by numbers book on making a TV show? Who even financed this? WOW

  • Rosalie Z

    Loved this show last year. It’s for crap this year – turning channel rest of season