The producers of this new Fox legal drama have “The Practice” on their resumes, but the series actually comes closer to being “Ally McCrazy,” with two mismatched lawyers — a corporate hotshot recovering from a nervous breakdown and a mental case with rage issues — thrust into an unlikely partnership. Although the show works a little too hard at being quirky, “Head Cases” does deliver a pair of well-defined protagonists, but initially not the kind of obsessive-compulsive magnetism it will need to flourish in a pretty inhospitable timeslot.
Chris O’Donnell is Jason Payne, one of those high-profile attorneys always having cameras shoved under his nose on courthouse steps. Alas, though, his driven careerism not only estranges him from his loving wife (Krista Allen, in a rare no-cheesecake role) and young son but triggers a head-spinning collapse that lands him in an institution.
Two months later Jason is ready to hit the streets again, but his big firm won’t have him back. Moreover, a condition of his release places him in contact with Shultz (Adam Goldberg), the lowest of low-rent lawyers — a fellow who specializes in representing strippers and whores, bounces his leg uncontrollably when agitated and has a bad habit of punching out opposing counsel.
A veteran of failed series, this twitchy character fits Goldberg like an old (if somewhat annoyingly squeaky) shoe, and there are moments of genuine inspiration when, say, he kidnaps a potential witness. OK, so Shultz (even his mother just calls him that, like Cher) would be disbarred before the first commercial break, at least he’s entertaining.
Still, the buddy-lawyer formula feels a little tired, and the two cases dreamed up for the pilot are equally predictable — one regarding a nymphomaniac fired for excessive fraternization with co-workers, the other about a beautiful spouse (“Nip/Tuck’s” Kelly Carlson) seeking to avoid being denied half her philandering husband’s estate in their divorce settlement.
There’s not much subtlety all around in series creator Bill Chais’ script, which features several instances of lawyers blackmailing and counter-blackmailing each other, with the occasional soft-focus family flourish thrown in as Jason tries to put his life back together.
The series has already undergone some tinkering from the presentation that sold it and will receive an additional infusion of loopiness with “Spin City’s” Richard Kind joining the cast as a disbarred paralegal. Actually, in some respects it’s the perfect companion to another new WB show, “Just Legal,” which also involves a cut-rate lawyer (in that case Don Johnson) operating out of a beachside office in Venice.
With ABC’s heavyweight “Lost” as competition and “American Idol” due to occupy its hour come January, “Head Cases” has relatively little time to impress Fox execs and will likely require more ingenuity than just Goldberg’s antic energy and O’Donnell’s perfectly coifed hair to impress viewers.
Otherwise, it’ll be “Cases” dismissed.