Law show has that Grisham intrigue
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org January 6, 2012 3:16PM
On “The Firm,” Josh Lucas is Mitch McDeere, played by Tom Cruise in the 1993 movie.
‘THE FIRM’ ★★★
Premieres 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday before moving to 9 to 10 p.m. Thursdays on WMAQ-Channel 5
Updated: February 10, 2012 8:17AM
Twenty years have passed since author John Grisham introduced us to Mitch McDeere, an up-and-coming lawyer who took down a fancy Memphis law firm that turned out to be a front for the Chicago mob.
Whatever happened to Mitch?
Grisham still gets asked that question on a regular basis.
Two decades later we have our answer, courtesy of NBC’s new drama, “The Firm,” whose executive producers include Grisham and Lukas Reiter of “Law & Order” and “Boston Legal” fame. The series makes its two-hour debut Sunday before moving to its regular 9 to 10 p.m. time slot on Thursdays.
Add McDeere to the list of lawyers Hollywood is checking up on 20 years later. Scott Turow’s “Presumed Innocent” character Rusty Sabich got the same treatment in November with TNT’s made-for-TV movie “Innocent.”
The television version of “The Firm” picks up about 10 years after McDeere — played by Tom Cruise in the 1993 movie by the same name — helped the FBI nail his former firm, Bendini, Lambert & Locke. On the small screen, the role of McDeere has been inherited by the addictively likable Josh Lucas (“The Lincoln Lawyer”).
We learn that McDeere has been hanging out in the witness protection program because no one holds a grudge like the mob. But after a decade of hiding, he and his wife, Abby (Molly Parker; “Dexter,” “Deadwood”), and their 10-year-old daughter, Claire, are fed up. They figure enough time has passed and it’s safe to make a go at a real life in Washington, D.C., where McDeere can start his own law practice, Abby can be a teacher and Claire finally can make some real friends.
Alas, trouble wastes no time catching up with McDeere, who’s being chased through the nation’s capital by some well-dressed thugs in the pilot’s opening scene.
He manages to slip away and — even more miraculously — find a working pay phone, from which he makes a frantic call to his wife. He tells her to follow their emergency plan because “it’s happening again.”
“The Firm’s” powerful beginning gets followed up with the first of many flashbacks, which hopefully will die down a bit as the series progresses.
We rewind to find out that not long before McDeere was running for his life past the Lincoln Memorial and other D.C. monuments, he was having a rough time paying the bills.
He’s the only attorney in his fledgling law practice. The small staff includes his older brother, Ray (Callum Keith Rennie; “The Killing,” “Californication”), who went to prison for manslaughter but is now a street-smart private investigator.
Ray’s on-again, off-again girlfriend is also McDeere’s sassy, chain-smoking office assistant played by “Natural Born Killers” star Juliette Lewis. (Hey, a girl’s gotta eat). She’s a nice foil to McDeere’s saintlike wife, whose unwavering support for her husband sparked more than one eyeroll.
While McDeere struggles to keep his practice afloat, the big-wig law firm Kinross & Clark starts courting him to come on board and head up its criminal division.
What’s that saying about fool me once, shame on you? Fool me twice …?
Joining a firm didn’t work out so well the last time, but McDeere decides to go for it even though he despises his new co-workers.
“We both defend criminals,” McDeere says to the firm’s tax attorney at a swanky client reception. “The difference is I’ll admit it to anyone and you won’t even admit it to yourself.”
A big chunk of the pilot is devoted to a court-appointed case McDeere takes defending a 14-year-old killer. The boy is accused of stabbing a schoolmate to death on the playground — a story arc that ends up falling flat. Not only is it mostly boring, but McDeere’s dealings with the dead boy’s father are not what you’d expect from someone who reminds us not once, but twice, that he graduated at the top of his class at Harvard Law School.
You can expect future episodes of “The Firm” to have more of these self-contained courtroom procedurals built in. That way viewers can get their weekly fix of justice and resolution while the overarching — and more intriguing — story line of McDeere’s plight slowly unfolds.