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TV Review: Shark

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We don’t watch ER to see how Dr. Pratt will handle the perplexing case of rash with vomiting in Exam Room One. We really tune in to see how Dr. Pratt will handle Neela and help her get out of her funk over the death of her husband. Sure, the medical aspects are interesting, and at times very compelling. But mostly we want to see the interactions between the hospital staff – it’s what’s made the show great. 

Many great legal dramas have followed the same formula. The Practice had worthy courtroom scenes – but mostly we wanted to find out whether Bobby would end up with Helen or Lindsay or would Jimmy get to keep shagging the judge. 

If we are lucky, sometimes we get a mix of professional dilemmas and gripping personal drama. A show like House does that nicely. A show like Shark may do the same thing – or try to.

Shark starts off on the right foot. It’s got top-notch talent like James Woods, Jeri Ryan, Spike Lee (who directed the pilot) and Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind, 24) helming production. An added bonus is the music of Sean Callery (24, La Femme Nikita). Woods is the major draw here, the rest of the cast are lesser known, with the exception of the beautiful Jeri Ryan, who has played everything from a Borg, to a teacher, to a lawyer, to a con artist. Now she’s District Attorney Jessica Devlin, who typically would face off against Woods’ Sebastian Stark – an over achieving, winning is everything – defense attorney. 

The episode begins with Stark finishing his closing statements to a jury – a jury who is about to deliberate a case of attempted murder. Well, Stark’s words are persuasive enough, the defendant is acquitted, and life is good. Stark is riding high, until a few days later his client does something very bad. Bad enough to shake up Stark’s world so he questions his career choices for a month. 

This changes when Stark gets a call from the mayor. Seems that the D.A.’s office is forming a special prosecution unit, and the mayor wants Stark to head the group. Of course, if he takes the job, he’ll have to report to Devlin. Whatever discomfort this might involve, is overshadowed by the unique challenge, and hopefully a chance for some sort of personal redemption. 

The group is made up of half a dozen or so young lawyers who have the disadvantage of being imperfect. When Stark first meets with them, he rattles off mini bios for each, stressing everyone’s weak points. This has the multiple effects of embarrassment and intimidation, not to mention some exposition for the audience. 

After all the introductory hooey is out of the way, Stark lays out the tricky case they need to handle. As the rest of the show continues, we learn a few more facts about Stark. He had a “thing” with the defense attorney Anita Astin (Lynn Whitfield), and of course, Astin is the opposing counsel in the case at hand. 

We also learn more about Stark’s relationships with the other women in his life: his 16-year-old daughter Julie (he’s a little absent, but the love is obvious), with his ex -wife (they get along fine), and his secretary (she puts up with a lot). Also, a custody hearing for Julie is upcoming, with the assumption that it’s going to be a cordial confirmation of the current relationship – until Stark finds out his ex will be moving to New York with her fiancé – and bringing Julie with her. 

An interesting tool that Stark employs is a mock courtroom installed inside his home. The set is outfitted with Smithsonian type relics – floor panels from the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Ito’s desk lamp, a jury box from the set of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Clarence Darrow’s trial chair. Gee, House only has a piano. 

The story moves along fairly unremarkably – Stark and his posse of prosecutors stumble towards the predictable outcome, giving closure to the victim’s mother, and boosting morale in the D.A.’s office. But there’s the custody sub-plot that must be resolved before the episode is through. 

Something in her dad’s new career must agree with him, because in the end, Julie decides that her father has matured enough for her to put up with on a permanent basis, and at her hearing announces that she wants to live with him. Let’s see if CBS viewers give Shark the same chance. 

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