Harry’s Law TV Review

Harry’s Law, which according to the website apparently now has the tagline, “Go ahead. Make her case,” premiered Monday on NBC, and it’s been tough trying to follow the ratings banter that has followed. Did it make a strong showing as far as the ratings are concerned? It seems to depend on who you ask at any given moment. The numbers themselves aren’t in dispute, but there is some disagreement as to what they mean.

Whether the ratings are “good” (because it’s a January premiere, etc.), or “bad” (because it has Kathy Bates and David E. Kelley for crying out loud, etc.), doesn’t mean a lot to me, though I find the argument interesting. The new legal dramedy, which also features Kathy Bates holding up a .44 Magnum on the website, after the big “reveal” of the pilot episode, ought to be the most discussed new show in years, because it is incomprehensibly, awesomely bad, not because of its, “fairish, but not so great,” ratings.

Though we’ve come to expect a little bit of odd and crazy from David E. Kelley over the years, and understand well that the odd bits are most of what made his good shows what they were, at some point (like Snoops, or Girls Club, or The Wedding Bells) we get to raise our eyebrows and back slowly away… then bolt at the corner.

We enter the show with Harriet “Harry” Korn (Bates) wallowing in her fancy law office, watching cartoons and eating the prominently displayed Poppycock, amid a mountain of what prop guys pull out when the script says, “mess.” In a rather fanciful, 60-second rundown, we are given to understand that Harry was, until a month ago, one of the top patent Attorneys in the country, but now she’s sick of her incredibly boring life. Before you’re even absolutely sure you’re watching the right channel, she’s fired.

Now, as I say, we know that we’re meant to suspend some disbelief when David E. Kelley puts something together for us (see Ally McBeal, Doogie Howser M.D., Boston Legal, etc.), so hold that idea close to you for a minute.

We cut to Harry wandering the streets aimlessly, and voice-overing a little ditty about the wackiness of life, looking for all the world like someone who is a week away from homelessness. Bam! She’s hit on the head by an errant, falling, African-American man, who just jumped off a building in a suicide attempt. Cut to the hospital. Harry’s fine. Curmudgeonly banter ensues.

She returns to the spot of the accident, insert more voice-over about life and things happening for a reason (or not), and sees a retail property for rent. We quickly gather that she forms thoughts of hanging her shingle in this rundown part of town, and throwing a little adventure at herself (patent clients being who they are), and heads over to check the space out. Bam! She’s hit by a car moving at a pretty nice clip, but luckily falls onto a mattress that was being delivered. Cut to the hospital. To her Doctor’s bewilderment, Harry’s fine.

Much to no one’s surprise, the person who hit her turns out to be a young, patent lawyer from another big firm, and he and Harry were involved in a big case not all that long ago. This fellow will come to be known as Adam Branch (Nate Corddry). He is somewhat in awe of her status as a giant in the patent law arena, she thinks he’s an arrogant little shit. Thus, television scripts come together.

Now to diverge just slightly from the course of events as laid out in the show, Harry rents the modest retail spot, and finds it filled with (apparently) really expensive shoes that were left by the last tenant when he was given the boot (ha). Harry’s old secretary/assistant/token attractive person Jenna (Brittany Snow) stops in to see how things are going, and naturally falls for the footwear, thus having the majority of her dialog from this point on taken over by the word, “Prada.”

Before Harry can settle in, Adam bursts in and tells Harry that he’s going to come and work for her… in her little retail shoe store law office of undisclosed purpose… until she gets on her feet (in the world of legal business, this of course makes no sense whatever… two patent attorneys in a shoe store in a bad part of town are not better than one). Despite her protests, Adam insists.

Jenna quickly fires off that she is going to stay with Harry and continue on as her girl Friday, or whatever, and without missing a beat, Harry replies that she can’t afford to pay her.

Aha! (Cue lights going out, the waving about of large sheets of aluminum, and a deafening – Dun, Dun, Dunnnnnn)

Now we’ve gone one too far Mr. Kelley. I’ll play along as much as the next guy. In fact, I’m usually the one who doesn’t bother with letting things run wild, and throwing plausibility to the wind (Bravo Picket Fences, by the way), but enough is too much.

I’ll give you the fairly silly intro. Guy falls six stories onto aging, large-ish woman, and no one gets hurt… and he happens to have a convenient case for her to take up. Fine. A few hours later, she’s hit by a fast-moving car, again, isn’t hurt, and another patent Attorney (big cities are lousy with them) is driving. Again, no one is hurt. Well, fine. We’re working this “things happen for a reason” angle, and we’ve seen worse… let’s say. Then, she stumbles onto a retail space that has a homeless man sleeping right outside, and hookers at the corner, and it not only still has the $40,000 worth of shoes inside from the last tenant, but is in fact a place where someone was recently attempting to sell $40,000 worth of shoes. Well, any quirk in a storm, I suppose.

But, now you’re trying to tell me that one of the top patent Attorneys in the country, with some thirty-odd years in practice at what is obviously a very cushy law firm, is so down and out, on day one of losing her position no less, that she makes a completely off-the-cuff remark (as though stating the blatantly obvious) that she cannot afford to pay an assistant? Not here, I say! You’ll not have me with your snake oil, my good man! The outrage! The unmitigated gall of such a suggestion!

Mind you, we’re some five minutes or so into the show at this point, and from there things get silly.

Once the groundwork has been laid, the show comes at you in an odd, confused effort at pacing. First, things are whizzing by you at breakneck speed, with characters and laughable contrivances flying this way and that, then we come to almost a complete stop, in order that thugs and Harry herself can deliver doe-eyed monologues by way of dialog that no one ever, ever, would actually say.

Skipping along, a “gangster” walks in trying to sell Harry on his protection racket, at which point she pulls out the previously mentioned .44, takes his picture with her iPhone, and tells him that her 30 years of legal practice have led her to a close relationship with many members of law enforcement. Some of them “honest,” others not so much. Wink wink. You know, because of how patent Attorneys are all up in the criminal scene and whatnot.

Later, Harry squares off with a D.A. who all but twirls his mustache, and repeats most everything he says, because that’s where the dart landed on the “Annoying Character Quirks” board. Our hooligan turns out to be running something that might be thought of as a “legitimate protection racket,” and needs a good lawyer. And, before you can say, “Jack Robinson,” Jenna (whose name is not Chrissy, or Barney Fife by an accident of fate) has customers in the office looking at shoes. Well, because how hard can that be? Turn left at the wino, past the third hooker, and you’re here… We have Prada!

Once in the courtroom, everything that transpires, and every word that is uttered, has far more in common with an early 70’s sitcom than with either anything that could possibly happen in a real court, or even anything that happens in a court in the realm of less-than-interesting shows. It’s so nonsensical, that it’s almost self-mocking, except that I’m wary of giving it even that much credit for awareness.

At some point Kelley and some group of ones were sitting around a table, and someone threw out the idea that there was a certain segment of the population who are jonesing for some Murder She Wrote, or Matlock, and some of them are even still alive, only it should be wackier now, because they’re older. Kelley said, “You want to get nuts! Let’s get nuts!”

On the other hand, as much as this is the most ludicrous show I’ve seen in… no, I have no time frame there, it was incredibly entertaining to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the “too stupid not to watch it” popularity of things like Jersey Shore didn’t spill over onto it.

Below you can check out a quick preview, and if you’re really brave, the entire first episode.

Emmy Award–winning writer/producer David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal,” “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal”) weaves his rich storytelling into a new legal dramedy starring Academy Award winner Kathy Bates in the title role — about how people can embrace the unexpected and other curveballs that life can throw at them. Harriet “Harry” Korn (Kathy Bates, “Misery,” “About Schmidt”) doesn’t believe things happen for a reason, but she discovers that they sometimes do.

A curmudgeonly ex-patent lawyer, Harry is abruptly fired from her blue-chip law firm, forcing her to search for a fresh start.  She finds it when her world unexpectedly collides, literally, with Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen, “Kidulthood”), a kind-hearted college student who desperately needs Harry’s help with his pending court case and he subsequently goes to work for her.

Harry soon finds her balance as well as new offices in an abandoned shoe store just as legal hotshot Adam Branch (Nate Corddry, “The United States of Tara,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) accidentally hits her while driving.  Inspired by Harry’s no-nonsense understanding of the law, Adam decides to take leave of his shiny corporate firm to work with her.  Harry, Adam and Malcolm — unlikely but kindred spirits — along with the help of Harry’s shoe-savant assistant, Jenna (Brittany Snow, “Hairspray,” “American Dreams”), are now ready for whatever walks in through the doors of their unique establishment “Harriet’s Law and Fine Shoes.”

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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