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Pilot Inspektor: An Advance Review of ABC's "The Deep End"

Every once in a while, a pilot comes along that has such a stellar cast that it's heartbreakingly depressing when the pilot itself isn't quite up to snuff.

This development season that pilot would be ABC's The Deep End (formerly known as The Associates... and before that Untitled Dave Hemingson Legal Dramedy), which has gathered together some fantastically diverse talent as Matt Long (Jack & Bobby), Tina Majorino (Big Love), Ben Lawson (Neighbours), Norbert Leo Butz (Dan in Real Life), Leah Pipes (Life is Wild), Billy Zane (Samantha Who?), Sherri Saum (In Treatment), Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight, Swingtown), and Clancy Brown (Carnivale).

The Deep End, from writer/executive producer Dave Hemingson (Kitchen Confidential), follows the personal and professional goings on of a group of ambitious young law associates and their demanding bosses at a cutthroat Los Angeles law firm. The series, from 20th Century Fox Television, was originally developed as a dramedy and previously shot a pilot last development season before jettisoning most of its cast and reformatting as a straight drama, albeit with some soapy Grey's Anatomy-style antics. (I could make some coy joke about lawyers jumping into each others legal briefs here, but I just won't do it.)

We're introduced to the four new associates at Sterling Law, one of Los Angeles' most prestigious law firms: there's Dylan Hewitt (Long), a do-gooder from a blue collar background who turns up ten days late (more on that in a bit), ambitious Midwesterner Addy Fisher (Majorino), womanizing Aussie Liam Priory (Lawson), and rich girl Beth Bancroft (Pipes). All are thrown into the deep end at Sterling. (Hell, one of them is literally thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool at one point, just to hit you over the head with the metaphor.)

They've all been recruited by the quixotic (and hilariously savage) Rowdy Kaiser (Butz), a man just as likely to help you out of a jam as he is to skin you alive, and they find themselves quickly trying to keep up with the demands and foibles of the firm's partners: the ruthless and Machiavellian Cliff Huddle (Zane) who is referred to not-so-lovingly around the office as "the Prince of Darkness," his icy wife Susan Oppenheim (Saum), and the uber-intimidating founding partner Hart Sterling (Brown).

There are a slew of cases for each of the new associates to tackle and, naturally, complications ensue at every turn. After attending a client's bris with Susan, Liam is mistakenly believed to be Jewish by a would-be Israeli client (Big Love's Noa Tisby) until she discovers that he may have misled her a little when things turn physical. Politics could derail Dylan's pro-bono custody case when Cliff takes an interest in the case and sides with the opposing party, a wealthy woman who carried her grandchild in her womb. (Don't ask, really.)

Elsewhere, Addy finds herself arrested when she is pulled in multiple directions by several of the partners and struggles to file a brief at the courthouse in time, while Beth, working on a transfer of power at a major corporation, realizes that the outbound CEO isn't in full control of his faculties, believing her to be his long-dead daughter.

But that's nothing compared to the Grey's Anatomy-style bed-hopping. Dylan swiftly falls for winsome paralegal Katie (Lefevre), herself torn between Dylan's good guy qualities and her ongoing affair with the very married Cliff. Liam hooks up with the Israeli client and beds one of the firm's secretaries. And it turns out there's a sexual history between Liam and Beth that continues to flare up every time there's stress.

All of which could lead to a frothy nighttime soap but there's a decided lack of sense of humor here. Everything is played so straight, without any real fun that it's hard to root for the characters or care about their off-hours pursuits.

In fact, the only actor that seems to be having any real fun with The Deep End at all is Norbert Leo Butz, who imbues Rowdy with a dangerous, mercurial edge. This unpredictable side to his character makes Rowdy a hell of a lot of fun but he seems trapped in another series altogether, one that's more in line with creator Dave Hemingson's original vision for the series, which had a decidedly more humorous bend.

The rest of the actors seem to sadly be sleepwalking through their roles a little bit and none of the characters are all that three-dimensional. If we're going to be spending any extended time with these associates and partners, they had better be quirky and memorable, but instead they come off as slightly stale cliches we've seen on numerous other legal series.

Given that ABC won't be launching The Deep End until midseason, I hope they can take the time to fine-tune the tone of the series and inject more humor and fun to this. It could be a legal dramedy akin to the early years of FOX's Ally McBeal and boasts one of the finest ensemble casts this development season. But as it stands now, I didn't think The Deep End was all too deep, really.

The Deep End launches next year on ABC.


Anonymous said…
God, I hate these kinds of shows. Ambitious lawyers! Working crazy hours! On the biggest cases! Faced with moral dilemnas! I could literally rattle off about 100 shows that have done this exact same thing. And all of them with the exact same stock characters we're seeing here. ENOUGH ALREADY!

And just as a side note, I'm a lawyer. Because of shows like this a lot of people I meet assume I'm some sort of big shot who makes great money. That's not the reality for 99% of lawyers. Most of us are glorified paper pushers and make crap!
Barrett said…
This definitely sounds like another unoriginal, cookie cutter, zany lawyer drama. But it's got such a great cast! Wish the show could do the cast justice.
Unknown said…
Wow... another "Lawyer" show... It's "Raising the bar", but on the other side of the courtroom.

Couldn't we just get "Eli Stone" back? Please...
Anonymous said…
"That's not the reality for 99% of lawyers. Most of us are glorified paper pushers and make crap!"

Uhh.. yeah, i'd love to make what you call "crap". I consider myself to have a decent job and get by, and i probably wont come anywhere NEAR any lawyer's wages, unless you're talking about the absolute lowest 10% by 2002 standards.
Anonymous said…
Complete and utter bore . . . could not sit through the whole thing.

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