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'Outlaw' Premiere Review: This Whole Court's Out of Order

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 15th 2010 9:30AM
NBC's new Jimmy Smits vehicle is called 'Outlaw.' I guess the title 'Contrived, Irritating Star Vehicle' just wasn't as catchy.

You may have gathered that I found 'Outlaw' to be a waste of time, but it's actually a misfire that illustrates several things that end up going wrong every fall and mid-season, when when the networks roll out half a dozen shows that make similar mistakes.

Someone call the TV police, because they're going to have to cite 'Outlaw' (which premieres 10PM ET Wednesday, then moves to 10PM ET Fridays) for the following crimes:

1. Star Vehicles, Especially on the Broadcast Networks, Don't Work All That Often. The television-creation process at the big networks too often works against the creation of interesting characters -- the idea is to avoid alienating any potential viewers. When a show is built around a name actor, the impetus to create a sexy, amazing, brilliant, kind and heroic lead can become overwhelming. These characters are often terribly boring. I'm not saying noble characters can't be interesting -- they can be, when good writers and creators have free reign to create compelling situations, dilemmas and worlds. But when a well-known star is wedged into a well-known genre, the characters and the stories frequently end up being predictable.

2. Supporting Characters Don't Support When They Are Mere Types. Smits' smug character, famous lawyer Cyrus Garza, has three assistants helping him with cases. One is left-ish, one is right-ish, and one makes constant sexual innuendos. These people are not humans, they are robots sent from the future to destroy all happiness. OK, in all seriousness, unlike the supporting characters on, say, 'The Good Wife,' these characters exist to say and do things that set up the hero's heroic actions; their personalities, such as they are, don't stray outside very defined parameters. Al Drezinsky (David Ramsey), Garza's law partner, gets especially short shrift -- Drezinsky is extremely bland, presumably to make Garza look that much more interesting.

3. If the Dialogue Is Bad, Everything Else Is Probably Clunky Too. Your honor, I submit into evidence: "Following the rules doesn't always lead to justice. When that happens, Eddie, you've got to change the rules." "Too much head, not enough heart." "You can't put the system above a man's life!" To top it all off, Garza makes The Speech at the end of episode 2 -- you know, the speech about Why He Does What He Does. It's the speech you've heard a million times before, frequently done better on everything from "L.A. Law," one of Smits' previous shows, to "Boston Legal."

4. Just Having a Character Do The Opposite of What Most People Would Do Does Not Make That Person Inherently Interesting. I guess we're supposed to think Garza is a savvy maverick and a sexy risk-taker. But when he does things with little or no explanation of why he's doing them (especially in the second episode), he just seems like a presumptuous blowhard uninterested in collecting solid information before making a decision. We're supposed to root for that guy... why, again?

5. Just Having a Character Who Likes to Go to Las Vegas Does Not Make Him Inherently Interesting. Garza gambles, he loves the ladies. So what? I'm tired of the lazy TV shorthand that says someone who plays poker or likes a drink is inherently edgy. Oh, but, you know, thanks for hammering away at the theme that Garza is a Risk Taker! Otherwise I might have missed that idea, which is, you know, in the title.

6. A Decent Plot Can Help No Matter What, But if the Plots Are Flimsy and There Are Other Basic Flaws, You Are Toast. Would a senator really harass a sitting Supreme Court justice? Would that senator threaten impeachment when the justice doesn't do his bidding? That sort of contrived silliness is all over 'Outlaw,' which also has Garza finding the perfect evidence at the perfect moment in the second episode.

I rest my case.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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14 Comments

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TerryL

I was looking forward to this new show ,being a fan of Smit's work ...but was soon bored and disappointed ..... even if you try and buy the whole premise of the show set up ...it still doesn't work ..it reminded me of the James Wood show Shark ...which I liked at first ...this is not close to being good as that ...sorry Jimmy ..better luck on your next choice

September 22 2010 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
julio Matarranz

When Garza he talk to Mereta is the same who house 1x01. Cameron Toal to House:
why do you hire me, you are pretty, I am good, not that good......

September 19 2010 at 12:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

What I don't understand is why Smits can be great on shows like 'Dexter' (though, IIRC, Mo was distinctly underwhelmed) and 'The West Wing', but it seems impossible to build a show around him that works.

September 17 2010 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hipnek

I'm sure you are right, but I'll probably give it a chance anyway. I have such fond memories of Jimmy Smits from LA Law and especially NYPD Blue. I enjoyed him in Dexter and even watched every episode of that meandering mess about the sugar cane plantation, a show so forgettable I don't recall its name.

September 17 2010 at 3:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JennyL

Can NBC broadcast anything without a liberal agenda?

September 17 2010 at 11:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KathyB

I loved Smits on Dexter. Wanted Cane to be a good show, but it wasn't. Too much emphasis on the bankable name by network. Corporate decision making generally sucks. Smits doesn't make reliably good choices, but it makes me wonder if he just doesn't get good offers very often.

Then again, living with the anxiety of being out of sight and out of work is hard to manage for most actors. Outlaw will fade away quick.

September 17 2010 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KathyB's comment
Craig Ranapia

To be fair, Cane sounded great on paper and I'd have faulted the writing and execution more than JS, who did his level best with weak material. You can also have it work the other way -- I was deeply meh-some about 'The Good Wife' (which sounded like just another legal soaper with a ripped from the headlines "woman scorned" twist) but it's turned out to be a LOT better than it really needed to be. Ditto for 'Castle'.

September 17 2010 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bbrill

What a lame show! Of course, we have a Supreme Court justice, who has the opposite political views of his father, presumably developed in a considered manner over his 50 years, who wakes up one day to realize that [naturally] his conservative convictions are just plain wrong and that liberalism has always been the shining light. The brazen message is, of course, that conservatism is wrong and cannot possibly be associated with justice, notwithstanding that justice equally applied without sentimentality leads to a set of criteria and rules upon which society can base expectations and achieve true justice, not the "social justice," which these writers mistake for the real thing.

How about a show called "The Fidel Diaries"? It would be based on a fictitious diaries of Castro, in which he reveals that he has known for some time that socialism does not work and is not the best vehicle to improve the life of the greatest number of people for the longest period of time. He knows capitalism and conservatism are more likely to deliver mass prosperity but he cannot disappoint the "people." Now that would be a show!!!!

September 16 2010 at 10:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GuiltyFeat

This was simply a bad show. Smits has limited charm and it's exhausted early on. I wrote it up here: http://guiltyfeat.com/2010/09/15/down-and-outlaw/ Let me know what you think.

September 15 2010 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
joe

I partially agree with Joyce N, in that I too think that Smits is a very good actor, but this show is beneath him. He deserves more than the paint by the numbers, safe, bland, formulaic dribble that the networks keep thinking will work...even though it never does. It's like they tried to make the Latino Mentalist, but making him a lawyer. Why is everyone afraid to be original. It seems to be working out in spades over at AMC. Breaking Bad etc... Run Jimmy. Find something more worthy of your talents. I know it's hard to see straight when a network is courting you and making you feel special, but you are better than this show.

September 15 2010 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

I hope this show somehow makes it even with all the negative reviews. Jimmy Smits is a good actor and I want to see more of him.

September 15 2010 at 11:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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