CBS’ “The Guardian” isn’t nearly as watchable as its star. The Eye web already has a chamber full of noble justice hounds thanks to “Family Law” and “Judging Amy,” so this legal drama, though powered by a terrific perf from fresh face Simon Baker, feels a bit late to the ex parte. There’s even a small subplot in the pilot about young tech titans involved in a dot-com takeover. How yesterday can you get?
Already a name Down Under, Baker, here playing a Pittsburgh attorney, has popped up in several films, including “Red Planet” and “L.A. Confidential.” But this is certainly his coming-out project, a showcase for his overt brashness, his sexy brooding and an attitude that brings to mind Russell Crowe. A more complex skein would have made an even stronger vehicle — as it is, “The Guardian,” skedded against comedies (ABC, NBC), reality (Fox’s “Love Cruise”), WB’s “Smallville” and UPN’s “Roswell,” is standard fare.
Baker plays Nick Fallin, a hotshot lawyer sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service at a children’s shelter after he’s arrested on a drug possession charge. While continuing to work at the prestigious firm established by his father, Burton (Dabney Coleman), Nick balances his Armani-suited career with new responsibilities as an advocate.
He’s forced to serve under Alvin Masterson (Alan Rosenberg), a principled civic leader who resents Nick’s fast success and treats him kindly only because of his father. Willing to give him a shot, Alvin keeps Nick on a short leash, forbidding his over-the-line behavior and unethical methods of investigation.
First episode finds Nick right in the middle of the most disturbing case to hit the city in years (although the narrative treats it like a one-day-and-out misdemeanor). A boy witnesses his mother’s murder, and his father, a respected physician, is charged with the crime.
After disobeying Alvin and conducting a shady exploration of evidence, Nick eventually discovers that wrong prescriptions might have indirectly led to the homicide. By the end of the hour, a man who bludgeoned his spouse has a chance at suing the pharmaceutical company, avoiding prison time and getting his son back. That sure was easy.
“The Guardian” is fueled by its thesps. Aside from Baker, who nicely hides his Aussie accent, Rosenberg and Coleman are solid in supporting roles, while Erica Leershen is intriguing as a dutiful assistant/flirt. In its better moments, show feels like “The Practice” with its rapid-fire courtspeak, intense anger and outrage.
But those moments are infrequent. More noticeable is the debut’s sketchy approach to such complex subject matter. Michael Pressman’s direction and David Hollander’s screenplay are polished, but they treat a high-profile killing as if few people are deeply affected and judiciary politics play no part. It all feels so tidy. As for “The Guardian’s” long-term run, viewers may find it extremely depressing to follow a series in which the storylines circle around abused kids.
Tech credits are tops, with Oleg Savytski’s production design and Jacek Laskus’ smooth lensing the standout elements. Pilot was filmed in Toronto and L.A.