At first blush, “Franklin & Bash” sounds like an unfortunate double date for TNT’s improbably popular crimeshow “Rizzoli & Isles.” Get past the ampersand, though, and what’s left is an unexpectedly quirky legal show that has as about much to do with law as “CSI” does with science. Starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer as two ambulance-chasing lawyers recruited to join a big fusty firm, the show is playful, silly and wholly unpretentious. Having previously starred as an attorney in TNT’s “Raising the Bar,” Gosselaar and company deliver a more compelling case here against being summarily dismissed.
Behaving like two frat boys on an extended spring break, Jared Franklin (Meyer) and Peter Bash (Gosselaar) are noticed by Stanton Infeld (a wonderfully weird Malcolm McDowell, mirroring his “Entourage” crazy-rich-guy role), the Zen-spouting partner at a corporate enterprise. He brings them aboard with the stated hope they’ll shake up the firm’s energy, which Franklin takes as an invitation to “mess with the zombie culture,” immediately butting heads with Infeld’s buttoned-up nephew (Reed Diamond).
The cases prove little more than an afterthought to showcase the central duo’s wacky courtroom theatrics, which are overshadowed by their shut-in, phobia-wracked researcher (Kumail Najiani), who, unburdened by a filter, blurts out things like, “I am going to go masturbate.”
Sex is very much on the program’s mind, with cases involving a dominatrix, a young wife accused of killing her older husband via intercourse and an airline pilot charged with neglecting his duties while participating in an act worthy of mile-high-club membership. Perhaps that’s why the best hour previewed is the most restrained, involving a plain woman utterly convinced she’s been fired from a Playboy-like company because she’s so distractingly beautiful.
Both Bash (still pining for his ex-girlfriend) and Franklin (his dad was a big-time litigator) tote around slightly more serious baggage, but happily, they don’t pull it out often enough to detract from the fun. The producers have also surrounded them with a deep cast, including McDowell, Garcelle Beauvais as an alluring attorney, and Najiani and Dana Davis as the pair’s sidekicks.
Nobody will confuse this with “L.A. Law” in its prime, but the vibe is similar to that show’s more whimsical side — a breezy tone that carries through the handful of episodes previewed. Those attributes also mesh reasonably well with TNT’s profile, despite steering clear of the crime niche where the channel has prospered.
Will that add up to a positive judgment from viewers? That’s hard to say, but if Franklin & Bash don’t flourish at their new gig, perhaps there will be openings for boisterous barristers over at “Rizzoli & Isles.”