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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
THE DEEP END (ABC)
(TBA at midseason; TRT: 43:00)
The network's description: "Each year one of LA's most prestigious law firms recruits four young lawyers from the finest law schools worldwide. The only way for these first-years to survive is to support each othereven as they compete against one another in the cutthroat arena of high-end law. Sex, greed, romance, betrayal it's all part of being a first year associate at Sterling Law."
What did they leave out? This is actually the second incarnation of the show. The original pilot, shot last year by Dean Parisot, still featured Norbert Leo Butz, Matt Long, Ben Lawson and Tina Majorino in principal roles but had Roger Bart as Cliff (now played by Billy Zane), Morena Baccarin as Beth (now played by Leah Pipes) and Gail O'Grady as Susan (now played Sherri Saum) among other changes.
The plot in a nutshell: First-year associates Dylan Hewitt (Matt Long), the nice guy crusader; Addy Fisher (Tina Majorino), the sweet overachiever; Beth Branford (Leah Pipes), the ambitious legacy; and Liam Priory (Ben Lawson), the Aussie womanizer, have their work cut out for them at Sterling, Huddle, Oppenhimer & Craft. "This is your lucky chance, your break in the clouds, your four-leaf clover," explains recruiter Rowdy Kaiser (Norbert Leo Butz). "The only question is, are you going to think your life away or are you going to sack up and grab opportunity's... doorknob?" After all, his prestigious firm screens over a thousand applicants and accept just four. Cut to three months later and our quartet's first day, well, at least Dylan's. It seems Rowdy told him the wrong date: he's 10 days late. Or maybe not as Beth informs him the firm likes to keep first-years off balance so they can gain control. And with that our heroes are quickly thrown to the wolves: Dylan, aided by ace paralegal/love interest Katie Campbell (Rachelle Lefevre), is handed a loser case involving a frazzled mother (Meredith Monroe) who's being pushed out of her late husband's estate by her son's grandmother (Kate Burton); Liam is asked to play rainmaker with a potential client (Noa Tishby) who mistakes him for Jewish; Beth is put in charge of a regime change between an aging CEO (apologies, I didn't recognize the actor) and his heir apparent (Timothy Omundson); and the mousey Addy is bullied into grunt work by the various partners, including the icy Susan Oppenheim (Sherri Saum).
At the crux of each case is some kind of moral choice: Dylan is supposed to take a dive because the grandmother sits on a board with some of the firm's big clients, even though he may have a shot at winning; Liam has to decide whether or not to keep up the charade to land such a big whale; Beth is asked to rubber stamp said transition even though the current CEO may not be of sound mind; and Addy has to stick up for herself or lose her chance at getting a real case. Along the way we discover there's a battle over the firm's soul going on between managing partner Cliff Huddle (Billy Zane), better known as the Prince of Darkness, who wants to run things "like a business, not a soup kitchen" and the recently returned Hart Sterling (Clancy Brown), who wants them to do more pro bono work. In the end, each of the quartet makes the decision that best suits them as their previously black and white world becomes more and more grey. Thankfully they have each other to fall back on - romantically or otherwise - as they jump into the deep end of the practicing law (which turns out to be literal and figurative statement).
What works: The show does a solid job of framing things through the eyes of the first-years, whether it be watching them scramble for leftovers on the partners catered lunch cart because they haven't had a chance to eat, the start buddy bonds that always seem to form between newbies or a general "what the hell are we doing?"-ness that comes with such a high-pressure job. Butz's Rowdy also proves to be a lot of fun as he plays ringmaster to the circus that is Sterling, Huddle, Oppenhimer & Craft. His "secret mentor" speech to Dylan is a particular hoot as he offers him sage advice - and a ride to work - only to kick him out a few blocks away because he can't be seen around him. And while we aren't privy to everybody's backstory, seeing "Everwood's" Tom Amandes turn up as Beth's disapproving father is a nice moment.
What doesn't: The characters - aside from Rowdy - never quite seem to pop. Matt Long, so great in the short-lived "Jack & Bobby," feels like he's straight off your standard nice guy assembly line. Ditto for Lawson as the man-whore with a heart of gold, Majorino as the wallflower who's actually the smartest one in the room and Pipes as the ambitious girl still looking for daddy's approval. It's not that they aren't likeable, they just don't feel unique. That same feeling expands to its procedural elements - we've all seen these types of cases before and it's take on them isn't particularly surprising or original. The show tries to add some flavor by making Zane's Cliff the devil and Brown's Hart the angel on everyone's shoulders but it's all very obvious and overstated: Cliff's literally called the Prince of Darkness and Hart's sainthood awaits after we learn his sabbatical was to take care of his dying wife. Not helping matters: dialogue like [from Cliff to Susan:] "Sometimes I think I married myself one grade A bitch," all said with a straight face. All in all, "Deep End" isn't a bad show...
The bottom line: ...it's just not really memorable.