In television, marrying a writer to the right talent can often be more than half the battle, and so it is with “Harry’s Law,” the second NBC drama of the season about a disgruntled lawyer embarking on a late-in-life career change (OK, so “Outlaw” featured a Supreme Court justice — and lowered the bar on expectations). Kathy Bates is just the person to deliver David E. Kelley’s tart dialogue, and he surrounds her with enough quirky characters to make this Cincinnati-set spiritual companion to “Boston Legal” a breezy diversion. Whether that provides sufficient appeal for a show that rightfully belongs on CBS may be another matter.
Bates’ Harriet “Harry” Korn is a big-time patent lawyer who experiences a near-death epiphany (two, actually) in the opening moments. Before you can say “motion to dismiss,” she’s shifted gears from her mid-six-figure income to handling petty criminal cases, bringing her into conflict in the two episodes previewed with a snide prosecutor (“ER’s” Paul McCrane), who has an odd habit of repeating himself, repeating himself.
Sometimes — indeed, a lot of the time — it feels like Kelley is doing this show just to get his political opinions off his chest, heavy-handedly so. As he did with “Boston Legal,” the cases and closing statements he crafts for his fictional counselors resonate with real-world implications, usually stinging conservatives, such as reminding the world that radio firebrand Rush Limbaugh is a “drug addict.”
While that may be a turnoff to self-proclaimed dittoheads — especially those who see liberal media conspiracies everywhere they look — with Bates delivering the arguments and Kelley’s knack for distilling issues to their essence, some people will find the mix just fine. Besides, what other show would borrow the theme from “The Jeffersons” to quickly establish the modesty of its environs?
Harry’s extended work family includes Nate Corddry — finally in a show whose sensibility suits him — as a promising young attorney who chucks his corporate gig to work with her; Brittany Snow as an assistant who moonlights selling shoes out of their ragtag office; and Johnny Ray Gill in a recurring role as a local thug with a Robin Hood streak, peddling protection to the locals while reminding them the police aren’t apt to rush into their ‘hood.
As for Bates, Kelley has given the “Misery” star a character worthy of her outsized personality — brandishing a pistol in her office, irritating judges and fearlessly speaking her mind. Moreover, the producers manage to take a jokey plot in the second hour — an old lady who commits armed robbery — and conjure rather poignant moments.
“Harry’s Law” has the kind of light procedural touch that CBS aimed for, but didn’t deliver as well, on “The Defenders.” And while this show hardly establishes any precedent, it’s pretty clear it doesn’t intend to; Kelley simply had some things to get off his chest, and primetime is a better place than most to plead his case: His heroine may be an outsider, but at least Harry’s no “Outlaw.”