“Common Law” is kind of a sitcom twofer: fish out of water meets unlikely lovers Mork and Mindy get it on. Stand-up comic Greg Giraldo plays John Alvarez, a Queens-bred, Harvard-educated associate in a fast-track midtown Manhattan lawfirm who has secretly set up housekeeping with Waspy associate Nancy Slaton (Megyn Price). Company policy frowns on interoffice romances, so John and Nancy arrive together, but take separate elevators to their offices.
John has a flamboyantly Hispanic secretary (Diana-Maria Riva), who attributes her organizational skills to Ricki Lake, and a conservative barber father (Gregory Sierra), who thinks his son looks like a gay pirate because he sports an earring and a beard. John also has an office decorated in late Filmore East, and is more often than not likely to haul out his guitar whenever things get sticky. Giraldo plays him dependably earnest, except when he’s hot (or when duty to the old neighborhood calls).
Quirkily underplaying Nancy, Price may prove to be this year’s Helen Hunt; she’s a real find. In the premiere, John and Nancy are given the current make-or-break case, the one that’s sure to tip whoever wins over the fence into a partnership. Nancy wants to work, work, work. John wants to strum a few tunes and bail out a friend in need.
And then there’s the business of telling John’s father that they’ve moved in together.
John fights Hispanic stereotype so well that one colleague judges him not Latino enough for a case in which the firm needs a token minority.
Actually, the type Giraldo plays in “Common Law” is more hippie dippy than Cheech and Chong. He’s an alien in these environs not because he’s Hispanic, but because the whole ethos of the office strikes him as foreign. Question is, so what’s he doing here? Did someone force him into the firm? Given the opportunity of a lifetime at least on these premises John’s response is so blase you want to punch him.
If “Common Law” is going to work, it’s going to need to show a lot more respect for John Alvarez. Tagging him with a Harvard degree and a natural blond girlfriend won’t make us love him. Giving him some smarts would really help.