TV Review: NBC’s OUTLAW

     September 15, 2010

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For some reason, television and its viewers find the most fascinating stories within the lives of cops, lawyers and doctors. Police procedurals, medical dramas and legal dramas have been around forever, and every season we wait to see which ones will stick on the networks new series line-up. For the life of me I don’t know why, but I’ve never found myself caught up in a police procedural or legal drama. With Jimmy Smits taking a turn as Cyrus Garza, a gambling, slightly chauvinistic, though surprisingly conservative Supreme Court Justice turned ethically charged attorney in NBC’s new series Outlaw, there was hope to fill at least one of those voids. So what’s the verdict? Find out after the jump.

Upon first inspection, Outlaw seems to seamlessly transfer the formula that made Fox’s medical drama House M.D. a favorite amongst both critics and viewers. Despite his incessant boozing and gambling, Justice Cyrus Garza not only has a team of loyal followers and employees, but a tragic past complete with respectable father and a crooked political career (though he’s one hell of a lawyer). However, the audience has come into his life story at the most convenient time (as usual with television) as his clerk Mereta (Ellen Woglom) drags him out of a casino (where he’s counting cards) and convinces him to take a look at the case file for a death row inmate supposedly wrongly convicted of murder. A critical drinking binge occurs when he needs a heart-to-heart with himself and his dead father as he watches an old news piece chronicling their politics and relationship. Now Garza has a new calling to defend the defenseless and stand-up for those who can’t stand.

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While the pacing of the show is spot on, it’s the content within that creates problems. Let’s start with the characters. Each and every one of them is so painstakingly exaggerated and defined, it’s like they’re on Who’s Line is It Anyway trying to get a fellow comedian to guess what kind of character they are. There’s Mereta, the kiss-ass, love-smitten and somewhat bubbly law clerk; Eddie (Jesse Bradford), a desperately eager, conservative clerk looking to climb the legal laddder; and Lucinda (Carly Pope), a feisty, sexually infused caricature of a private eye who delivers the most contrived sexual innuendos I’ve ever heard. Of course challenging Garza as his equal is his best friend and defense attorney Al ( (David Ramsey) who serves as the logos to Garza’s oozing pathos. It’s a veritable treasure trove of cliches.

Meanwhile, an almost offensively holier than thou storyline keeps anyone from really caring about Garza himself. Don’t get me wrong, Smits does the best with what he’s given, but there’s not much you can do with a complete lack of subtlety in lines like “Who said you were the only one who needed saving.” In addition, at the risk of sparking political debate, the liberal sensibilities of Hollywood are just shoved in viewers’ faces throughout all the pilot’s proceedings. While I’m usually on the more liberal side of politics, this is just unbearable to watch and I can’t imagine enduring this level of biased fictional writing for episodes to come.

The rest of the series fires on all cylinders making mountains out of molehills in exposition and future story/character arcs. An attempt at concern and suspense is created as a powerful man who once protected Garza from his most violent of opposing adversaries tells him that he’s on his own. With a gambling debt, and a long list of enemies from his days as Justice, his career and life are certainly not going to be filled with easy going roads. Unlike Garza, with his sudden desire to protect outcasts and the underrepresented public, we just don’t have an easy or quick reason to care. If Law & Order was the Cadillac of legal dramas, then Outlaw is the 1993 Chrysler LeBaron.

THE FINAL WORD: Though it tries hard to copy, the only real qualities Outlaw shares with House M.D. is the searing pain that runs through my leg (and the rest of my body) when I think of all the resources wasted on a show like this. I’m sorry to say that Jimmy Smits hasn’t found the right series to call home, but with Outlaw heading to Fridays on NBC next week after its initial premiere on Wednesday, September 15th (tonight) at 10pm EST, I think that home may end up being foreclosed sooner than later. Throw this on the DVR if you must, but don’t let TiVo bully you into watching “more like this,” because you’ll be stuck laughing yourself to sleep in the worst way imaginable.

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