Pilot Review: Outlaw

A Supreme Court justice has a bit of a mid-life crisis and resigns his job-for-life at the pinnacle of the US legal profession. He no longer wants to be a referee, he wants to get in on the fight.

The show is a mess, it’s all over the place. It veers wildly from melodramatic father-issues, to tiresome innuendo, to painful ‘comic’ misunderstandings and occasionally lands on self-righteous sanctimony. It’s like someone threw everything from a writers’ handbook into a pot and just mixed it all together, creating a hodgepodge of stuff that in isolation might have worked, but when put together result in a mountain of confusion.

For a start I find it extremely hard to believe that a relatively recent appointee to the US Supreme Court, a job for life, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate would have been put forward when he apparently has massive gambling debts. Not least because that’s opened him up to the kind of blackmailing we are shown a senator trying to undertake. I’m sorry, but people like Garza don’t actually get to BE Supreme Court judges, let alone throw it all away.

The key element in any story built around the concept of a dramatic change of situation must somehow manage to explain both the old situation, the new one, and what it was that drove the change. That’s admittedly a lot to do in 45 minutes without massively over-simplifying, but it’s almost as if Outlaw made no attempt to even try. There’s no explanation of what makes Garza worthy of being one of the nine most powerful people in the US legal system in the first place. He’s presented as a fun loving, gambling, playboy – not skills usually found on judge’s CVs. Then we’re immediately thrown into his resignation and I still don’t really understand what his reasons were for doing that. It’s not that they’re presented as mysterious, it’s just that they’re really confused.

Justice Garza seems to have surrounded himself with a staff of children. His three assistants are all about 14 and act accordingly. Mereta is young, blonde, pretty and happens to be in love with Garza (as if the similarities with Cameron from House weren’t obvious enough they almost line-for-line steal a scene describing why she was hired). Eddie is ambitious, by the book and slightly slimy and Lucinda is a ‘street-smart private detective’ who’s a lot like the Good Wife’s Kalinda, except that she’s constantly talking about sex. Oh, there’s also Garza’s grown up friend, who has a family and a conscience and may as well be called Jiminy Cricket. There’s nothing interesting or original about any of them.

The biggest problem with the show is the writing. The dialogue is poor, the narrative muddled and the plotting clumsy. I ended up confused about how the Supreme Court and the American legal system worked and I struggled to understand what the motivations and desires of the central character were. But the biggest problem was that the writing just wasn’t good enough to give me any impression that those behind the show had any greater understanding of any of these things than I did.

This show makes me sad all over again for the cancellation of The West Wing. Jimmy Smits deserves to be the President on a smart, challenging, entertaining show like that. Outlaw is just a cheap imitation, not worthy of his talents.

Reviews:
TV Squad – “NBC’s new Jimmy Smits vehicle is called ‘Outlaw.’ I guess the title ‘Contrived, Irritating Star Vehicle’ just wasn’t as catchy. ”
CliqueClack – “There is quite a bit worth liking in the first hour of ‘Outlaw’, but if it’s going to sustain a viewership, the show is going to have to settle down a bit.”

Links: Official site, imdb, wikipedia, TV.com

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  1. September 3rd, 2011
    Trackback from : Narrative Devices
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