Equal parts “Working Girl” and “My Cousin Vinny,” “Made in Jersey” seems like a reliable if not particularly exciting next-door neighbor — the meat in CBS’ “CSI: New York”/”Blue Bloods” Friday-night crime sandwich. Modest in its ambitions, the series has the advantage of being anchored by a charming newcomer in Janet Montgomery, cast as what amounts to another resourceful underdog. The timeslot virtually caps the show’s upside (especially in demographic terms), but based on Montgomery’s appeal alone, “Jersey” might please enough folks to win its case.
Part of a big boisterous working-class Italian family, Montgomery’s Martina Garretti is introduced via unpleasant run-ins with first a motorist and then a soap dispenser. One demonstrates her take-no-guff Jersey attitude, and the other shows how fast she thinks on her feet, while offering a good excuse to strip her down to her bra.
A snooty corporate law firm has hired Martina, where some of the Ivy League-educated litigators look down their perfectly WASP-ish noses at her. Fortunately, Martina’s glint of promise has a better effect on the senior partner (Kyle McLachlan), who gives her a chance to get involved, almost immediately, with a high-profile murder case, defending a young woman accused of killing her college professor.
CBS is often so anal about adhering to its procedural approach that even its pilots plunge right into circling chalk outlines while being miserly about spooning out character details — such as Martina’s mom (Donna Murphy), who’s awfully proud her little girl escaped the sort of manicurist gig held down by her other daughter (Erin Cummings).
Created by Dana Calvo (full disclosure: A former colleague at the Los Angeles Times) and overseen by Kevin Falls (also responsible for TNT’s legal franchise “Franklin & Bash”), “Made in Jersey” looks reasonably polished, without doing much to plant its hook particularly deep. Mostly, the show’s commercial prospects hinge somewhat appropriately on a scenario much like the one Martina faces — namely, whether an older crowd (here watching “Blue Bloods”) decides to give this attractive underdog a chance.
If nothing else, the series should firmly place British import Montgomery, after smaller parts on “Human Target” and “Entourage,” on Hollywood’s radar. And for as long as it lasts, at least “Jersey” provides a more admirable image of the Garden State than some of its better-known TV progeny.