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Drowning in ‘The Deep End’

Published: January 29, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.


<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

It’s hard to tell what inspired ABC’s decision to produce and air the new legal drama, “The Deep End,” which premiered Thursday night. Perhaps the corporate execs figured that, with their success with “Grey’s Anatomy,” focusing on another profession would be just as profitable. Whatever the reason for green-lighting this project, I doubt it’s because they found the pilot to be compelling.

Set within a big law firm in Los Angeles, the show focuses on a group of four first-year associates, fresh from some of the best law schools in the world. Within this quartet, you have all the makings of any good TV drama aimed at the 18-to-49-year-old demographic. There is Dylan Hewitt, a charming idealist out to ensure that justice is served, played by the equally fresh-faced actor Matt Long. His office-mate is Liam Priory (Ben Lawson), who, though not quite as naïve-looking as Dylan, has a weakness for women. The two female associates are Addy Fisher (Tina Majorino), a weak-chinned pushover, and Beth Branford (Leah Pipes), who is essentially everything Addy is not.

In the pilot episode, these four young associates are faced with the problems typical of one’s first job: an overbearing boss, a lack of respect from superiors and a crisis of values.

While the show attempts to reach its audience by presenting them with easy-to-relate-to dilemmas, it fails to convince viewers that it has anything special to offer, other than a confirmation that their trials and tribulations are universal.

If this show has any chance of surviving, it lies in the drama within the inner circle of senior partners. The so-called “Prince of Darkness” and managing partner of the firm is Cliff Huddle, played by Billy Zane (who co-starred in “Titanic” as the leading lady’s equally malicious fiancé). Despite his ruthlessness and seemingly merciless adultery, among other character flaws, Cliff is surprisingly likeable.

It’s not that his problems aren’t relatable either; in the first episode, he engages in a power struggle with a returning managing partner to maintain his position as top dog at the firm. It’s here that the show may be able to strike a balance between relating to the audience and giving it the juicy, uncommon drama for which it turns to television.

Cliff’s wife and fellow senior partner, Susan Oppenheim (Nicole Ari Parker), is essentially a female version of her husband, with an added dash of compassion. She too is greatly more interesting than the bland first-year associates. After all, why would she marry the “Prince of Darkness?”

However, one thing the pilot was lacking was any substantial and interesting legal cases. Even the cases that were featured were dull by the standards of primetime television. “Grey’s Anatomy” has more to do with medicine than “The Deep End” has to do with law, which, these days, isn’t saying much.

While there is a certain amount of exposition that has to occupy any pilot episode, “The Deep End” fails to give viewers any reason to believe that it will go on to bigger and better (and more exciting) things in the next episode. Needless to say, there is no hung jury here—I will not be watching.