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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
CANTERBURY'S LAW (FOX)
(Thursdays at 9:00/8:00c this January)
The network's description: "From executive producers Denis Leary and Jim Serpico ("Rescue Me," "The Job") and writer Dave Erickson ("Murder in Greenwich") comes CANTERBURY'S LAW, a courtroom drama about a rebellious female defense attorney who's willing to bend the law in order to protect the wrongfully accused. ELIZABETH CANTERBURY (Julianna Margulies, "ER") is a force of nature. An attorney on the rise, she puts her career on the line to take on risky and unpopular cases, even when they take a toll on her personal life. Elizabeth and her law professor husband MATTHEW CANTERBURY (Linus Roache, "Batman Begins," "The Chronicles of Riddick"), haunted by the disappearance of their young son, have settled in Providence, Rhode Island, in an attempt to distance themselves from the tragedy and put their relationship back together. But those goals become elusive whenever Elizabeth's work provides a stark reminder of the justice absent in their own lives. At the office, Canterbury has surrounded herself with a brilliant but motley crew of attorneys. RUSSELL CROSS (Ben Shenkman, "Pi," "Angels in America") was forced out of the Providence District Attorney's Office when he went toe-to-toe with his morally bankrupt boss, D.A. Zach Williams. His reputation tarnished, Russell turned to Canterbury, the only attorney willing to take him in. Now Russell provides a much-needed voice of reason for Canterbury even when she doesn't want to hear it, his position of influence well-earned by their years of friendship. CHESTER FIELDS (Jocko Sims, "Dreamgirls," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") and MOLLY McCONNELL (Trieste Dunn, "United 93") are the associates rounding out Canterbury's legal crew. Chester is a blue-blooded congressman's son who is embarrassed by his privileged upbringing and has turned his back on politics. Molly, in contrast, is headstrong, passionate and quick to take sides even if she finds herself in the opposite corner from Canterbury."
What did they leave out: Keith Robinson has been brought in as the new Chester Fields, replacing Jocko Sims, while Linus Roache has exited the show due to his new "Law & Order" duties. A replacement for him is expected to be announced shortly.
The plot in a nutshell: Providence's Elizabeth Canterbury (Julianna Margulies) is the type of defense attorney who cheats on her husband (Linus Roache), doesn't hide from the press, isn't shy about walking into the men's bathrooms to continue conversations and will do just about anything to protect her clients. Why? Because she "knows" they're innocent, even if her partner, good guy ex-prosecutor Russell (Ben Shenkman), isn't always as sold. Such is the point of her newest case: Ethan Foster (Charlie Hofheimer), a convicted sex offender (he slept with his 15-year-old girlfriend when he was 20) who's now accused of murdering Tommy Jasper, an 11-year-old boy. The D.A. (Terry Kinney) already has a confession from Ethan, however Liz argues that the police withheld his medication in order to get it out of him. Not helping his matters though is that Ethan tells Russell that he might know where Tommy's body is. Liz - and the audience - however know the real culprit is actually the boy's father Scott (Boris McGiver), because he generally acts creepy, has a rumored history of beating his wife and son and walks around with an "I did it" sign hanging around his neck. Okay, maybe I made up one of those. Anywho, the judge won't let Liz call him to the stand so she has to figure out a way to trick the prosecution into opening the door to a line of questioning involving him. Said effort involves getting Ethan to lie about what he saw and get Scott to take the stand to explain himself. What follows is vintage "Matlock" as Liz - who's already ripped through the prosecution's experts with an ease not seen since Joe Pesci in "My Cousin Vinny" - stirs up Scott's emotions and gets the truth out of him. By the end we also learn what turned Liz into who she is today - her son disappeared three years ago and now she spends her days defending the figurative lost kids of the world (?), no matter what the cost to her. Oh and Liz has two junior associates - Molly (Trieste Dunn) and Chester (Jocko Sims), who are just kind of "there."
What works: It nearly passes as a boilerplate legal procedural...
What doesn't: ...but there isn't a plot twist that isn't given away the act before it comes or a set left standing thanks to Julianna Margulies's scenery chewing. Every bit the polar opposite of FX's "Damages," "Canterbury" is essentially a caricature of the "tough gal" genre it so desperately wants to be labeled as. Liz cheats on her husband! She bangs on a glass divider! She makes droll observations about media coverage! She walks in on Russell peeing! See, she's tough! Whether it be Dave Erickson's script or Margulies's performance, everything comes across as staged and inorganic. Even Liz's "excuse" - she's haunted by the apparent death of her son - never quite connects. So she's so distraught about her son that she defends a guy who'd suspected of killing a kid? I don't follow. The exact circumstances of what happened to her son are never revealed so one can't quite connect the dots beyond the above educated guess. And yes, that's kind of the point - who is this hard-living woman? - it doesn't make her current demeanor any more interesting. Not helping matters are her paper thin adversaries who might as will trip over their own shoelaces to make themselves less threatening - she points an overweight cop couldn't see what's at his feet and a prison psychiatrist's workload prevents him from remembering specific details. Even worse is the aforementioned father, who overplays his creepy hand within minutes of his first appearance. I mean is the idea to be entertained by how Liz gets us to the obvious conclusion? Sure the idea of "procedural" is to have some sort of familiarity but not this obvious.
The bottom line: A far-too-obvious script and a far-too-obvious performance by Margulies keep the show from passing as adequate.