All of Jimmy Smits’ considerable charisma can’t come close to making a convincing case for “Outlaw,” a jaw-droppingly simple-minded legal procedural that’s improbable on most every level. Conservatives, for once, will be right to express indignation about the show’s ham-fisted politics; others will have their own ideology-free but equally valid reasons to complain. The show’s Friday timeslot (following a midweek preview) carries limited expectations, but it will be a great surprise if NBC’s motion isn’t quickly rejected for a decided lack of appeal.

Inasmuch as the show comes from Conan O’Brien’s production company, Conaco, a conspiracy theorist might conclude leaving “Outlaw” behind represents his final F-you to the network — a behind-the-scenes footnote, frankly, more interesting than anything in the actual show.

Smits plays Cyrus Garza, a staunchly conservative Supreme Court justice with various personal vices, among them gambling and womanizing. (There are several wince-inducing moments, but the worst might be when he’s confronted by a liberal protester outside the court and is shown in the next scene reclining after an implied tryst with her. Now there’s a way to silence your critics.)

Ah, but then comes the epiphany — the case of a wrongly convicted man on death row. So Garza removes his robe for a more principled cause and decides to become a champion for the oppressed, resigning from the court and quickly assembling a crack team of young attorneys bought off the rack from the big-box store that wholesales stock TV characters. By that measure, the worst of the bunch is Carly Pope as his “sassy” (their word, not mine) investigator.

The conservative judge thus becomes a crusading lawyer, spouting platitudes (every actor loves courtroom speeches) that sound lifted from an American Civil Liberties Union brochure. Not to say this is farfetched, but let’s hope nobody is holding their breath for similar left-leaning awakenings by Justices Scalia or Thomas.

In what passes for a serialized thread, Garza’s decision also appears to have riled the Powers That Be, with a senator issuing vague threats about not upsetting the order of things, or some such nonsense.

Granted, “Outlaw” will theoretically be able to settle down into a standard legal procedural once the tortured setup is exhausted, in much the way CBS employed a provocative ripped-from-the-headlines concept to establish “The Good Wife.” Based on the pilot, though, there’s scant cause to anticipate evolving into that mode will strengthen the argument for watching.

In short, case dismissed.


NBC, Wed. Sept. 15, 10 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlantic City by Conaco Prods. in association with Universal Media Studios. Executive producers, John Eisendrath, David Kissinger, Richard Schwartz; co-executive producers, Jimmy Smits, Marcos Siega, Amanda Green, Luke Reiter, Peter Elkoff; producer, Caroline James; director, Terry George; writer, Eisendrath.
  • Crew: Camera, Michael Bonvillain; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; editors, Marty Nicholson, Lauren Schaffer; music, James Levine; casting, Joseph Middleton, Deanna Brigidi-Stewart. 60 MIN.
  • Cast: Cyrus Garza - Jimmy Smits Al Druzinsky - David Ramsey Lucinda - Carly Pope Eddie Franks - Jesse Bradford Meretta Stockman - Ellen Woglom With: Melora Hardin.
  • Music By: