Picture a brunette Erin Brockovich with a criminal record instead of the cleavage and you’ve got Alex DeMonaco, the tenacious heroine of Pax’s flawed but marginally entertaining “Just Cause.”
Elizabeth Lackey stars as Alex, the newest legal assistant working for conservative civil lawyer Hamilton Whitney III (Richard Thomas). She unwittingly took the fall for her embezzling lawyer husband and spent five years in jail, but while behind bars her spouse skipped the country with her toddler daughter, and Alex spent the time earning a law degree.
As soon as she’s released from prison, Alex puts her new skills to work, searching for a job and her daughter. She literally bamboozles her way into Whitney’s office looking for work and when that doesn’t pan out, she practically stalks him until he is persuaded to give her a chance.
Whitney is impressed with Alex’s knowledge of the law and touched by her unwavering commitment to justice. He gives Alex a simple assignment — get a deposition from some corporate big wigs in an audit case — but it soon turns into a murder mystery and public scandal of Enron-like proportions.
The case brings out Alex’s unorthodox work ethic, a blend of personal involvement and some clever tactics she’s learned in the slammer. Her style clearly clashes with that of Whitney’s, and puts them both in jeopardy, but her passion and instincts reawaken his desire to practice criminal law again.
Writers Jacqueline Zambrano and Gail Morgan Hickman have created some unique obstacles for Alex, namely a criminal record and an 11 p.m. curfew. Just when the show seems like a commonplace legal drama, Alex has to pull back and check in with her tough-as-nails parole officer.
But show tends to overstate the importance of Alex’s jail time, reducing the street smarts vs. book smarts to the simplest of arguments. According to “Just Cause,” prison is more educational than Harvard; it’s where Alex learned to easily categorize people as honest or not just by body language.
Still, it’s a forgivable story device when compared to the casual use of antiquated stereotypes. Director William Corcoran depicts a world where all of Alex’s fellow convicts are black; the cleaning crews are Hispanic and all the men, save for Whitney, are either sexist, salacious or downright lecherous.
Hopefully, “Just Case” can rebound by fleshing out a prospective roster of interesting secondary characters, including a young, ex-hacker PI on the trail of Alex’s ex, as well as a law firm associate and possible romantic interest for Alex.
Lackey makes an appealing plucky heroine as Alex, downplaying the rough edges as quirky and not simply world-weary. Thomas’ initial portrayal of Whitney is stiff and unforgiving, but hints at the depth and range of which he and his character are capable.
Tape reviewed lacked final technical credits.