Wednesday, January 11, 2012

NBC takes an ambitious chance with The Firm


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Of all of the new shows planned for NBC’s 2011-2012 television season, The Firm’s 22-episode order was the largest. With some new shows only surviving an episode or two due to low ratings, NBC must be pretty sure of itself this time around. This is the same network that tried out new versions of The Bionic Woman and Nightrider with dismal results. One could argue that those two series failed because they strayed too far from the original source. That’s what makes this new project so intriguing.

Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/NBC
While not based on a former TV series, The Firm is based on a previously published novel by John Grisham and hit movie that starred Tom Cruise back in 1993. The new series is a sequel that is more closely tied to the movie than the book (the movie had a different ending) and John Grisham himself is an executive producer of the show. In fact, he oversaw the first few episodes before he gave the show his blessing.

If you haven’t read the book or movie you will probably be confused with the TV show. It picks up ten years after the end of the movie’s story. Attorney Mitchell McDeere (John Lucas) and his family are just reemerging out of the Federal Witness Protection program after successfully bringing down a prestigious law firm with ties to the Chicago mob. The leader of the mob has died and now the family can begin again starting up their own law firm out in the open. However, money is tight and another law firm wants to bring McDeere under their wings so to speak. McDeere and his family are leery of this idea due to their previously dealings with a firm, but understand that it might be best for the fledgling business. The new firm, Kinross & Clark, have their own agenda for bringing on McDeere and his clients, but won’t discuss those reasons to him and in an opening scene of the new series, McDeere is seen calling his wife on a pay phone telling her that “it’s happening again!”

Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/NBC
Within the very first moments, The Firm grabs your attention and takes you back to original movie. Complete with strong piano notes featured in the film, the show feels like a natural extension – sans Cruise. But soon, it becomes obvious that The Firm is planned as two shows in one. The show is part legal procedural with a beginning, middle and end with each episode and part ongoing story line with the McDeere’s vs. the Firm itself. This is where the show takes a risky turn. Many will turn in for the thriller aspect of the show, but will be disappointed to see that much of the time is taken up with a separate storyline. Very few TV shows are able to keep the audience’s attention for both. In fact, NBC tried out a similar story idea back in 2003 with The Lion’s Den which started out strong but soon lost its’ audience due to the boring procedural part of the show.

Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/NBC
Another risky thing is that NBC is already confusing their audience on exactly when the show is on. The two-hour première, titled “Pilot” and “Chapter Two” aired last Sunday, January 8, but the show’s actually starting date is this Thursday, January 12 with “Chapter Three.” Then, to make things even more confusing, the network is planning on showing “encores” of the show on Saturday nights as well, beginning on January 14 with “Pilot/Chapter 2.”

If you’re a fan of the original book or movie and enjoy John Grisham’s work, you will probably enjoy this. Josh Lucas makes a good replacement (if not better) for Tom Cruise. His soft voice goes from soothing to “don’t mess with me” in seconds. He’s a good man guy wanting to take down big business. The other characters, are a little more colorful than realistic, but create a good chemistry for the show. Molly Parker plays Mitch’s smart schoolteacher wife, Callum Keith Rennie is Mitch’s brother with a past and Juliette Lewis adds spice as the company’s secretary. At its central core, this is a show about a family and how they deal with crisis as a family. It’s an old “good guys vs. the bad guys” show where integrity ultimately wins in the end – at least, it looks that way. If the show can maintain its rhythm and smartness, it should do well.

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