NBC midseason entry “First Years,” about a five young law associates working their way up and learning lots about life as they do so, represents television at its most plastic. Everything about it has the distinct feel of pretentiousness and fakery, from the lovely, painted walls of the Haight-Ashbury house they share, to the legal cases they’re assigned, which so to perfectly reflect their own private issues. The show is far too bland to overcome its blatant speciousness. Scheduled against another, far superior comedy-drama about young lawyers, “Ally McBeal,” “First Years” will likely join other ill-fated explorations of twentysomething existential angst such as “Wasteland,” “D.C.” and “Relativity,” and be dismissed with prejudice.
The cast here is certainly pretty, and they’re undoubtedly capable. But they’ve been saddled with characters whose personalities have barely a single dimension. Riley (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), we find out in the pilot, comes from a multiracial family, and bunks with her boyfriend, nicknamed “Egg” (James Roday). Their housemates include Warren (Mackenzie Astin), Miles (Ken Marino) and Anna (Samantha Mathis).
There’s not a whole lot more to describe about them, except to note that Warren feels a bit left out because he’s gay — but, thank goodness, he’s in therapy — and Miles and Anna have slept together once before, and everyone, including the audience, is just waiting impatiently for them to hook up and get it over with.
The visually average “First Years” must be marked as an artistic failure because its achievement on the screen falls so far short of its aspirations. Creator/executive producer Jill Gordon notes that the show following frosh law school grads is about “bottom-feeders” who are assigned only the worst cases and whom audiences will never see in the courtroom.
Of course, in the pilot, Riley represents a woman in a hearing, but it’s set in a judge’s chamber instead of a court. Big difference, I suppose. And to add insult to injury, the judge compliments Riley on her professionalism while a tear streams down her cheek. In both episodes, the first year’s work is on cases that would make Johnnie Cochran jealous.
Gordon also insists that if any of these characters becomes whiny, “we’ll kill them off.” Well, slay away, because these folks won’t stop harping on their student loan debt and lack of recreational time to go to concerts.
Poor young lawyers! Fortunately, at the end of episode two, they manage to find time to go see their favorite band, after a long hard day being unappreciated for their work easily uncovering the evil deeds of a giant pharmaceutical company.
The lack of appreciation is delivered by Eric Schaeffer (“If Lucy Fell”), playing a reprobate lawyer with an assistant (Joe Connolly) who constantly berates him for his sordid behavior. This relationship, far on the periphery of the show, reps the only quirky element in a series that tries for some humor but falls flat.
It’s as if the creators took the worst traits of some of the best TV producers and stockpiled them for this one series: David E. Kelley’s legal contrivances without his intellectual provocativeness or playful wit, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick’s preciousness without their emotional depth or visual stylishness and Kevin Williamson’s vacuousness without his characters’ youthful idealism.