[12/30/11 - 07:37 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "The Firm" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c beginning January 12; premieres Sunday, January 8 at 9:00/8:00c)

The network's description: "Entertainment One (eOne), Sony Pictures Television Networks, NBC and Global Television announced today that the highly anticipated drama series "The Firm" commenced production on August 18, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. The one-hour series will be simulcast on Global and NBC and will air on Sony's AXN networks in more than 125 territories around the globe. "The Firm" stars Josh Lucas ("The Lincoln Lawyer," "Sweet Home Alabama") as Mitch McDeere, Callum Keith Rennie ("The Killing," "Californication") as Ray McDeere, Molly Parker ("Deadwood," "Swingtown") as Abby McDeere and Juliette Lewis ("Natural Born Killers," "Cape Fear") as Tammy Hemphill. The series continues the story of attorney Mitch McDeere who, as a young associate, brought down the prestigious Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which operated as a front for the Chicago mob. After a difficult decade, McDeere and his family now emerge from isolation to reclaim their lives and their future -- only to find that past dangers are still lurking and new threats are everywhere."

What did they leave out? While the film was released in 1993, said events are billed as taking place 10 years ago.

The plot in a nutshell: "Abby, it's happening again," Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas, taking over for Tom Cruise), fresh from running for his life, tells his wife from a pay phone. The "it" in question then unfolds via flashback as just six weeks ago things seemed to be on the up and up with the McDeere clan. Mitch has opened his own struggling law practice, working alongside his private investigator/ex-con brother Ray (Callum Keith Rennie, taking over for David Strathairn) and Ray's girlfriend/secretary Tammy (Juliette Lewis, taking over for Holly Hunter) to defend the downtrodden. At home, wife Abby (Molly Parker, taking over for Jeanne Tripplehorn) is content with their hardscrabble life while their 10-year-old daughter Claire (Natasha Calis) stresses over making friends at school.

Collectively though they've all managed to breathe a sigh of relief: Joey Morolto (played by the late Joe Viterelli in the film), the mob boss that forced the McDeeres into witness protection, recently died in prison, a development Mitch assumes means it's safe to come out of hiding and live under their old names. And he's right, for the moment at least. He instead turns his attention to his case load, which recently added a 14-year-old boy who murdered a fellow classmate. It's up to Mitch to make sure he's tried as a juvenile, otherwise he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Other cases include a young woman charged with murder who insists she's innocent and a class action lawsuit over a defective stent. The latter should provide Mitch and company with a significant payday and keep them going for the foreseeable future.

At the same time (yup, this is a pretty busy show), Andrew Palmer (Shaun Majumder), Mitch's hoops buddy, approaches him about joining his firm, the respected Kincross & Grant. There he'd work for legal shark Alex Clark (Tricia Helfer). It's a tempting offer, one that could give him the extra ammunition to win the aforementioned suit. Ultimately, all of the above converges in a way that means Mitch's life will never be the same... again.

What works: Lucas, Parker, Rennie and company are all likeable enough, bringing the appropriate amount of levity and gravitas when need. It's just...

What doesn't: ...the show never quite figures out what it wants to be as it plays more like a disparate collection of concepts and ideas, the dots between which don't connect. First and foremost is how the overwhelming majority of the show has little to do with its namesake in the sense that if you excised the first and last five minutes, you'd be left with a relatively vanilla legal procedural. And while I get it needs a case-of-the-week element to sustain itself as a series, the ominous manner in which it starts would have you believe the case it spills into would somehow relate to the peril at hand. It's essentially teeing up one show and then making you wait around as it plods its way through another.

Even worse, when it finally gets back to the show you're presumably tuning in to see, it does so via the most convoluted road possible. Whether it's throwaway dialogue that seems to randomly inform later events or how the casting of two similar-looking actresses makes it appear characters are talking about one character when they mean another, there's a needlessly roughshod manner in which it all unfolds. Further proving to be problematic is Mitch's various motivations. On one hand his rationale to "go public" is predicated on the silly assumption that the mob - now run by Joey Morolto's twentysomething son - will forget about him. On the other, we're supposedly to believe that Mitch is a guy who struck out on his own because the big guys screwed him but is also still captivated by the idea of going to work for them.

That's a lot of reconcile and considering the bulk of it involves silly hubris (the kid whose dad I helped put in jail is totally going to forget about me!), it's hard to rally around his cause. Coupled with the show's inherent fits and starts, you'll likely walk away wondering why it's proactively stacked the deck against itself. And while my memories of the film are definitely fuzzy, I don't have to dig too deep to recall its pedigree as a taut thriller....

The bottom line: ...whereas this is anything but.

  [december 2011]  


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