January 29, 2010

new show review: the deep end

As an avid television fan, I usually have an idea of whether or not I will like a new show. ABC's The Deep End (Thursdays at 8:00) has all the ingredients of what often constitutes a winner in my book. I'm a sucker for an ensemble cast and plots that combine both serial and case-of-the-week storytelling. As a bonus, The Deep End has some of my favorites like Tina Majorino (Veronica Mars, Napoleon Dynamite) and Matt Long (Jack & Bobby). All of that said, this one just didn't come together for me.

Sterling is a major law firm in Los Angeles with a new crop of junior associates. We start with the four new associates interviewing with Rowdy Kaiser the recruitment associate (played by the brilliant Norbert Butz, better known as the original Fiero from Wicked). The four are pretty predictable: Addy Fisher (Majorino) the awkward, wholesome hard worker with a heart of gold, Dylan Hewitt (Matt Long) the handsome do-gooder boy nextdoor, Liam Priory (Ben Lawson) the British cocky ladies man, and Beth Bancroft (Leah Pipes) the privileged over-achiever.

Cut to three months later, they're all fretting about "The Prince of Darkness" who we learn is senior partner Cliff Huddle (Billy Zane). He is married to fellow senior partner Susan (Nicole Ari Parker), and chair partner Hart Sterling (Clancy Brown) is returning after a long leave of absence due to his wife's illness, during which he left Cliff in charge.

As for the cases:

Cliff sticks Dylan with a pro bono case that Hart forced on them (because first day junior associates always get their own cases). It's a birth mother versus her mother-in-law who is suing for custody of her grandson (baby daddy died). Dylan defies Cliff's attempts to settle the case due to mother-in-law's local power and wealth, and does the right thing to restore custody to the mom. Aww.

Liam accidentally gives a prospective client the impression that he's Jewish, a secret that's only revealed when the client comes across a very un-Jewish part of his anatomy.

Addy tries balancing the demands of multiple senior partners getting arrested in the process. When she finally stands up for herself, Susan takes her on as a mentee.

Meanwhile, Beth is tasked with helping an old CEO hand over the reigns to a new guy only to find out he has Alzheimer's disease. She must decide whether to close the deal or reveal that the poor old man has no idea what's going on. She turns to her father for advice. A cut throat, rival attorney played by the wonderful Tom Amandes (Everwood, Eli Stone). In the end, Beth opts to screw the old man and makes the deal for the firm.

Through it all, we learn a little about the firm. Hart is taking the reigns back from an very reluctant Cliff who has steered the firm in a much more money-hungry and power-seeking (but also more successful) direction. Hart exerts his authority by showing Rowdy the recruiting associate the error of his recent ways and hiring a fifth first-year associate, Malcolm Bennett (Mehcad Brooks).

At one point, Cliff threatens to set Dylan on fire, throws a stack of paper at him, and tells him he will make sure he "never practices law again" if he doesn't make sure his client's 6-year-old son is given over to his grandmother. Oh, and he's having an affair with paralegal Katie. Sorry, I just barfed cliche.

In the end, Hart and Cliff agree to co-lead the firm. Beth gets it on with Liam in their office, Dylan gets it on with Katie in her apartment, and Cliff is on his way to get it on with his wife at a hotel, but not before dropping by Katie's apartment. And scene.

The problem is, I can't decide what I like and don't like. It's all so uneven. To me, a pilot's task is to introduce you to the characters and show you that they've got a story to tell. By the end of the episode, I was just left... blahh.

Despite all this, I decided to give the show a second chance with the next episode. Sometimes pilots can be tricky due to all the rewriting, network influence, etc. It was very evident that too many writers were involved - or seemed to be - because of the unevenness of the plot and characters. So...episode two. Plus, it's directed by Timothy Busfield, so how could I not?

Essentially, two cases and two love stories were presented. In the first case, Beth assumes second chair with Cliff in a faulty product lawsuit against Beth's high-powered attorney father (played again by Tom Amandes, who's underused here). Pipes was okay as Beth, but I felt thrown into her daddy issues with little background. An unevenly dramatic ending that I didn't end up caring about. The second case involved Addy accidentally taking on a medical marijuana clinic as a client. I really like Addy - probably my favorite character because Majorino plays her with such ease and authenticity - but this story line was completely lost on me. First, the clinic owners tried to pull a fast one on Addy by sending her a batch of marijuana in order to hide it from the feds. Then, Hart claimed the marijuana was his in order to protect the firm - but also to show his support for medical marijuana, I think? In the end, Addy figured out a way to get Hart's charges dropped and fired the client. I didn't understand the point of it.

As for the "love" stories, we learn Cliff not only had an affair with Katie but promised her a job at the firm. But she broke up with him and slept with Dylan. For fear that she would find out, Cliff told Susan about the affair. Susan then transferred Katie to their office in Montana. Got all that? Care? Neither do I. Although, judging by the inappropriately sentimental goodbye between Katie and Dylan at the end of the episode, I think the writers wanted us to care.

Second love story involves Liam's quest to relive his first kiss - a standard to which he holds every new woman. In an effort to help, Addy tells all the women in the office to kiss him throughout the day. Seriously, all day. All over the office. This is a place of business, is it not? I rarely get insulted by the way women are written on television, but this was both insulting and ridiculous. In the end, turns out Liam's dream kiss came from Beth, not that he would let her know that, and not that we care. Liam's character seemed to have potential, but again, I'm left with very little.

I'm disappointed because I could have used a fun new show, but looks like this just won't be it for me. It feels like they've taken everything that has worked in successful series past - Grey's Anatomy's torrid love stories, Boston Legal's quirky cases, etc. and tried to make something new - but it just ended up feeling like a recycled imitation.


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