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'The Defenders' and 'The Whole Truth' Premiere Reviews: One Law Drama Comes Up a Winner

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 22nd 2010 1:00PM
Every year, and this timid fall season is no exception, the broadcast networks build shows around established actors.

Quite often, they're disappointingly contrived and formulaic, as is the case with NBC's 'Outlaw' and 'The Whole Truth' (10PM ET, ABC).

But 'The Defenders' (10PM ET, CBS) which, like those other shows, is a pretty straightforward legal procedural, has a surprising amount of fun with its familiar building blocks.

I don't mean to make special claims for 'The Defenders,' which is absolutely not reinventing the legal drama for the new millennium. There's still a certain amount of clunkiness in the writing and the generic blandness that affects most supporting characters on network TV is present here too.

Yet on this CBS show, Jim Belushi, who appears to be having the time of his life, has been given a role that perfectly suits his talents. Yes, he has palpable talents, which apparently weren't completely eroded by starring in 'According to Jim' for approximately 700 years.

Belushi plays Nick Morelli, half of a Las Vegas team of not-quite-totally-sleazy lawyers, and in his own rumpled way, Belushi owns this character and takes possession of the screen. Morelli has a jaunty energy that doesn't quite hide a big heart, but Belushi makes Nick seem specific, not just another bombastic-but-secretly-sincere lawyer. And though we've all seen the big closing argument scene approximately 700 million times, Belushi's take on it in the pilot is so infectious and well-played that I'd certainly contemplate revisiting court with him in the future.

On occasion, mind you: 'The Defenders' is probably going to be pretty predictable, as these things go. Still, the show is efficient when it comes to the legal stories, and there are scenes in the pilot between Belushi and Stephen Root, who plays a mildly unhinged judge, that are seriously enjoyable. And though Jerry O'Connell, who plays Nick's law partner, Pete, sometimes gives off a slightly skeevy vibe, 'The Defenders' uses that to the show's advantage. These guys are not corporate drones working for big firms in glassy high-rises, after all.

Much of 'The Defenders' has a vintage feel: On this show, flight attendants like to fool around with passengers, convertibles are the height of cool and it is assumed that many Vegas residents are hepcats who are hip to its swingin' history. It may not be the most original show on TV, but the whole enterprise has a zestiness that is missing from many other new programs, among them ABC's 'The Whole Truth.'

'The Whole Truth,' which stars Maura Tierney and Rob Morrow as lawyers who are on opposite sides of the aisle every week, mistakes bombast for energy. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the entire cast wore out several pairs of shoes just shooting the first two episodes: there are dozens of walk-and-talk scenes and almost every line is delivered by characters on the move. And in case we didn't get the message that assistant district attorney Kathryn Peale is a seriously tough lady, one conversation takes place at a shooting range, which is where Peale goes to relax.

Despite being a drama about lawyers, 'The Whole Truth' doesn't even begin to have the courage of its convictions. Every point is hammered home with a complete lack of subtlety; during the closing argument in the pilot, bits of previous scenes were replayed at crucial moments, in case the audience forgot what transpired several minutes ago. It's always a good time when a television network assumes that you're a half-wit.

It's disappointing that generally sympathetic actors such as Tierney and Morrow are given so few opportunities to have quiet, resonant moments on the show. But the worst part of this overly caffeinated, overly busy procedural, which tries hard to distract you from the fact that it's really just a variation on 'Law & Order,' is Morrow's character, Jimmy Brogan. He's the kind of aggressive, hard-charging boss who's given to shouting things like, "People, let's work this out!"

People, let's not.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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O Nikos

Just finished watching both and I couldn't disagree more with you. Without wanting to ruin it for anyone having DVR'd the "Whole Truth" did you actually watch the last scene? And actually did happen to enjoy the very brief flashbacks at the closing arguments, they do work for what they are. The Defenders just seems forced with "hot" people from the two separate sides hooking-up, an ex-stripper as an attorney, etc. I'll give both one more episode but for right now the Whole Truth is edging ahead.

September 23 2010 at 12:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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