It’s been 21 years since John Grisham’s breakout bestselling novel ‘The Firm’ was published, and 19 since Tom Cruise starred in the blockbuster movie version, yet NBC is just now getting around to adapting a TV series spin-off. Talk about jumping on a property while it’s still hot. Was the show worth the wait? Well, it’s not the worst thing that NBC has aired in recent years, I’ll give it that.
The two-hour series premiere was officially divided into two episodes, called ‘Pilot’ and ‘Chapter Two’, though they run as a continuous whole with no breaking point between them. The show is set in the present day (a lot of the characters conspicuously use smartphones), but is supposed to take place a little more than ten years after the events of the original novel and movie. I kind of like the idea that this is a sequel to the narrative, and not a remake. Josh Lucas (who looks nothing like Tom Cruise) steps into the leading role as Grisham’s hero, Mitch McDeere. We’re told that he, wife Abby (Molly Parker from ‘Deadwood’) and daughter spent the last decade in Witness Protection, but have recently resurfaced in Washington, D.C. using their real names, because they’re tired of hiding and believe the Mob has forgotten about them. A handy flashback explains why McDeere would have needed to be in Witness Protection, given that the original story ended with him making a deal with the Mob. Long story short: It didn’t take.
McDeere sets up a small law shop of his own, with his sassy secretary Tammy (Juliette Lewis stepping in for Holly Hunter) and his ex-con brother Ray (Callum Keith Rennie), who works as their investigator. Mitch wants to be a champion of the people, but is having a lot of money problems. A buddy tries to lure him to join a high-end law firm, but Mitch is resistant due to past experiences. Given that the show is called ‘The Firm‘, and not ‘Mitch McDeere, Attorney at Law’, it should be pretty clear where this is heading.
Mitch juggles three cases in the premiere. The one that takes up most of his attention deals with a black teen who murdered a classmate. Although the kid is guilty, Mitch believes that he can be rehabilitated and fights to get him tried as a juvenile rather than an adult. When the victim’s father attempts to hire someone to kill his client, Mitch (always trying to see the best in people) works to resolve the situation without getting the police involved.
A second murder case is mostly ignored here, but will play a larger part in later episodes. The third case is a civil suit against a med-tech company that made a defective heart stent, and promises to bring in huge money. Mitch believes that the fancy law firm is wooing him to get a piece of this suit. However, as the episode ends, a secret cabal of lawyers at the firm (headed up by ‘Battlestar Galactica’ babe Tricia Helfer) reveals that they’re really interested in that other murder case for reasons undisclosed. Meanwhile, the Mob also has its eyes on Mitch and plots revenge.
For all that, how is the show? Kind of dull, unfortunately. As crummy a writer as John Grisham may be, and as thinly-sketched his stories, at least his Mitch McDeere was presented as somewhat like a real person with human failings. (His vanity and greed got him in trouble in the first place, and he cheated on his wife.) This Mitch is just a bland do-gooder. The bookend “suspense” scenes aren’t particularly exciting, and none the stuff in the middle sets itself apart from any number of other legal dramas on television at the moment. This very much feels like what it is – the watered-down TV version of a once-popular movie. The character interactions all feel too pat and scripted, and Juliette Lewis is given absolutely nothing to do with her role. The legal cases are only mildly interesting, and the courtroom scenes ring almost universally false. Most of all, there was just no need to have this premiere run two hours. It really drags.
‘The Firm’ isn’t a bad show, necessarily. This could just be an underwhelming pilot. I’d be willing to give it another episode or two. If it lasts that long. The premiere aired on Sunday, and debuted to terrible ratings, even for NBC. The show moves to Thursdays starting tomorrow. Whether it will last a whole season is up in the air at the moment.