We’ve gotten to the point that police and legal dramas feel uncomfortable without a shtick, and NBC’s Outlaw has a doozy. Jimmy Smits plays Cyrus Garza, a Supreme Court Justice who steps down from the bench in order to become a crusader for the little guys as a defense attorney. The “rowdy” Justice, Garza likes to gamble, and generally play up the playboy role, and managed his seat on the bench as a cutesy move by the Right to give a dig at Garza’s Left father… or whatever.
We’ve seen a lot of these shows that feel the need to oversell our excuse for watching them recently, including last year’s stand out, The Good Wife, and while they may offer up interesting reasons for the first bite, they have several problems built in.
We can’t hang onto that gimmick forever, and once we move in a few episodes, we better have great writing pulling us along, otherwise these shows tend to really fizzle. Forced to redesign themselves midstream, as often as not audiences find themselves wondering why they were watching in the first place.
Outlaw takes this dynamic and kicks into overdrive, defying you to not only remember why, but what you’re watching by the time the pilot is over.
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Kicked off by a weak, but perhaps forgivable, theory of Garza’s push toward leaving the Supreme Court, and a somewhat more workable mid-life angst directed at his knee-jerk reaction to his father’s life’s work, it isn’t long at all before the premise is underway, and Garza finds himself defending a convicted murderer.
Taking with him a ragtag bunch of supporters who may as well be introduced with voice-over in the style of the A-Team, Garza sets off to right the wrong of a man convicted of killing a police officer some decade or so ago. The legal spins and twists are goofy at best, Matlockian at worst (though those might be the other way round), and the drama from every angle is so contrived that the show is practically self-mockery. At the end, as we see an evil-doer being taken away, I was actually surprised that he did not turn and declare that he would have gotten away with it too, if not for those meddling kids.
Actually, mentioning Matlock gives me the idea that the show’s real flaw is its decidedly serious demeanor. Matlock had a hell of a run afterall, and if Outlaw could have come at you in a worn, baby blue blazer, and said, “Well… it’s a bit of fun… come on…,” it might have gotten to someone. Instead, this is a show, even within the few distractingly uptight attempts at comic relief, where suggestions to relax and not take it all so seriously would have about as much effect as a heckler at an avant-garde art opening.
For good or ill (or ultimately meaningless), I can’t say that anyone could have given this a better shot than Jimmy Smits did. He’s making the most of things here, and even if it is hard to see it through the mangled web of bravado and treacle he’s been dipped in, he’s turning in a performance as good as we’ve seen, and probably better than can be expected. I could very nearly forgive many of the show’s shortcomings, but not quite.
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A certain uninteresting mix of kicking puppies, preaching to the choir, and beating horses so dead they’re already in glue bottle form, I have no real hope for Outlaw lasting, and no interest if it does (like I said, Matlock had a hell of a run, so anything is possible).
Few jobs are guaranteed for a lifetime, and a Supreme Court appointment is a position that no one ever quits — unless he is Cyrus Garza (Smits). A playboy and a gambler, Justice Garza always adhered to a strict interpretation of the law until he realized the system he believed in was flawed. Now, he’s quit the bench and returned to private practice.
Using his inside knowledge of the justice system, Garza and his team will travel across the country taking on today’s biggest and most controversial legal cases.
Garza’s team includes his best friend since childhood, Al Druzinsky (David Ramsey), a brilliant defense attorney with liberal beliefs; Mereta Stockman (Ellen Woglom), a hopeless romantic who is Garza’s loyal law clerk; Lucinda Pearl (Carly Pope), a wildly unorthodox private investigator who uses her sex appeal and wit to gather information for Garza, and Eddie Franks (Jesse Bradford), a tightly wound, rabidly ambitious Yale-educated attorney, recently hired as Garza’s law clerk.