Fresh off his role in “Million Dollar Baby,” Jay Baruchel would seem the ostensible draw to the WB’s core audience as a 19-year-old prodigy practicing law (think “Doogie Lawyer, J.D.”). Yet while the former “Undeclared” star acquits himself admirably, it’s Don Johnson’s irascible charm as a boozing, bottom-feeding barrister that occasionally elevates this hour above its mundane legal jockeying. Series improves somewhat after its so-so pilot, but those simple pleasures owe more to the leads than the nondescript courtroom action, offering a soft target against tough competition.
On the plus side, it’s nice to see a Jerry Bruckheimer drama that doesn’t promiscuously traffic in corpses.
After being rejected by major law firms because of his youth, Baruchel’s David “Skip” Ross (a nickname acquired for skipping grades) hooks up with Johnson’s cut-rate oceanfront lawyer Grant Cooper, a combo of leading-men surnames that marks an upgrade in class for the well-traveled star.
It’s to Johnson’s credit that he can find a pulse in a character that’s such a cliche — a one-time idealist whose outlook soured after losing a big case, prompting him to vow that he’d “never go to trial again,” scraping by on settlement pleas for petty cash.
As for Skip, his mom (Julie Warner) frets about him practicing “street law,” but he remains bright-eyed and committed to seeing justice done. And while Cooper rediscovers some of his passion by virtue of Skip’s enthusiasm, his grudging relationship with respectability persists beyond the pilot — the show’s central dynamic being that Skip yearns to fight the good fight and drags him along for the ride.
Series creator Jonathan Shapiro passed his TV bar exam on “The Practice,” much like the producers of Fox’s “Head Cases,” another odd-couple lawyer show that’s also set in Venice, Calif. Neither program, however, rivals the earlier series’ skill in concocting disputes that actually cloud the outcome, instead providing courtroom encounters as obvious as the title pun.
In the three episodes previewed, the duo represent an attractive young girl found holding a bloody knife over a body, an African-American man caught fleeing a crime scene and a wheelchair-using woman seeking a civil judgment against her plastic surgeon. Only the second trial exhibits any legal spark, largely because Cooper injects race into the argument, suggesting his client was nabbed for being the “nearest person of color.”
Lacking much intrigue surrounding the cases, the show’s appeal hinges on its mismatched stars, from Skip greeting Cooper’s reference to “Bullitt” with a blank stare to the elder attorney drinking his lunch after a tough day in court.
And while Skip doesn’t possess much experience with the ladies, Cooper lusts after the local fauna and eschews a receptionist due to his unfortunate habit of marrying them, before relenting and hiring the lovely Dee (Jaime Lee Kirchner) post-pilot — a job she takes reluctantly as a condition of parole.
All told there’s scarcely a fresh note to be found here, down to the gratuitous shots of roller-blading beach babes. At its best, though, there’s still something kind of fun about hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.