Change "House's" M.D. to a J.D. and you pretty much have CBS' latest drama, with James Woods as a curmudgeonly, sarcastic yet brilliant attorney surrounded by a focus-group-tested posse of young prosecutors. Filled with L.A. references, enlivened by Woods' rapid-fire delivery, series is a throwback to old courtshows set to a modern soundtrack.
Change “House’s” M.D. to a J.D. and you pretty much have CBS’ latest drama, with James Woods as a curmudgeonly, sarcastic yet brilliant attorney surrounded by a focus-group-tested posse of young prosecutors. Filled with L.A. references, enlivened by Woods’ rapid-fire delivery, series is a throwback to old courtshows set to a modern soundtrack. Thursdays post-“CSI” is a timeslot to kill for, and the competition — including an aging “ER” — is suspect. Still, Woods will have to keep paddling for all he’s worth to keep “Shark” from doing more than just treading water.
In a painfully obvious, too-quick set-up, Woods’ defense ace Sebastian Stark gets a wife-beating client acquitted, only to have the bastard turn around and kill her. Guilty over the woman’s death, he’s approached by L.A.’s mayor (Carlos Gomez, channeling Antonio Villaraigosa) to spearhead a unit charged with handling high-profile cases within the prosecutor’s office.
None of this sits well with the D.A. (Jeri Ryan, prematurely making the “First Wives Club” leap from “babe” to “district attorney”), who assigns Stark the case of a rising young pop singer accused of murdering a one-night stand, pitting him against another top defense gun (guest Lynn Whitfield), with whom he has a past. Meanwhile, Stark’s at risk of losing contact with his teenage daughter (Danielle Panabaker), whose mom is prepping a move back East.
Directed by Spike Lee, the script, by series creator Ian Biederman, dispatches with the business of establishing the premise except for one glaring oversight — there’s not a single word about the enormous pay cut Stark will endure in order to salve his aching conscience. Even if, as the mayor maintains, he’s “sick of playing on the wrong side,” nobody mentions how he’ll pay for that great big house with the mock courtroom in the basement.
Stark is surrounded by a particularly bland if ethnically diverse group at which he barks his “win at all costs” orders, having previously stated that prosecutors are “my main source of fiber.” (On the plus side, most of them appear too old for Woods to date.)
If there’s one major point of departure from “House,” it’s the Shark’s role as a semi-wayward dad, and while Panabaker might be a fine young actress, she’s supposed to be 16 but sounds like she’s 47. Coming across as precocious is OK, but Ph.D. in family psychology is pushing matters.
Mining the safer flip side of Fox’s “Justice,” the series figures to have fun with celebrity-style cases, and Woods is such a compelling presence that he might be able to elevate even procedural fare. Yet while sinking his teeth into all that eloquent courtroom oratory is surely an actor’s feast, barring any major changes, “Shark” is more a snack than a meal.