OUTLAW “Pilot” Review

Outlaw (NBC) --"Pilot"

In the “Pilot” episode of OUTLAW, Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza, the most conservative voice on the court, is the swing vote on a death penalty appeal. After racking up $250,000 in gambling debts, surviving a car accident that kills his liberal activist father, and sleeping with a protester who takes him to task on the death penalty, Garza unexpectedly sides with the death row inmate and resigns from the Court to fight for the little guy. After striking a sweet deal with a law firm that allows him to choose his own team and travel anywhere, Cyrus chooses the death row inmate himself, Gregory Beals, as his first little guy.

Hmm. This isn’t what I had hoped for. I can get past the only in TV land premise of a sexist, womanizing cliché-spewing gambler being confirmed to the Supreme Court via some sort of right-wing conspiracy only to resign in his prime to fight the system, but it’s all so overwrought and heavy-handed. From the clumsy dialogue (“Following the rules doesn’t always lead to justice. Then you have to change the rules.”) to the swelling, melodramatic score, Outlaw is too “Look at me! I’m serious and earnest and meaningful!”

Jimmy Smits does his best with the material. He’s certainly charming enough to stay more or less likeable when sexually harassing as many women as possible. He even mostly overcomes the ridiculous dialogue: “I sleep like a baby, though for you I’d be willing to make an exception,” but I hope he trims some of the ham in the courtroom scenes.

The key to a good procedural (besides intriguing cases) is having fleshed-out, nuanced supporting characters, but Garza’s team seems more like a collection of clichés than a group of people. Ellen Woglum is Mereta, the liberally-inclined clerk who loves Garza and, in a scene straight out of a 1980s sitcom, publicly announces it after misinterpreting a conversation Garza has with his bookie as a warning that Garza has only three months to live. Jesse Bradford is the ambitious and more conservative clerk Eddie who is thrown off balance by Carly Pope’s private investigator Lucinda, the ridiculously exaggerated caricature of The Good Wife‘s Kalinda. In the thankless role of old friend is David Ramsey as Al, who also happens to be Greg Beals’s apparently incompetent attorney. All the characters are forgettable, except Lucinda, who is both forgettable and irritating.

The actual legal case is shockingly boring. Was there ever any doubt Eddie and Lucinda would find out exactly what temperature that basement was eleven years ago or that Garza would win? On the plus side, the courtroom scenes were no more or less painful than you’d find in any legal drama, and it is nice to see Jimmy Smits back in action as a lawyer.

Garza has enemies, which could become interesting. If the senator isn’t behind Garza’s tail, who is? Less interesting is the “Wah! My father was a saint who helped people who thought they were victims and he thought I was a schmuck.”

I don’t like to judge a series based on its pilot because so much can change once regular production starts, and I’m hoping Outlaw will be one show that improves. A lot.

What did you think of the Outlaw premiere?

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