Do we really need another lawyer show? CBS thinks so – and they've lured James Woods to star in Shark [Thursdays, 10 p.m.], a series that has been described as "House in a courtroom. That's not entirely the case – though Sebastien Stark [Woods] is definitely not the most likable guy on TV…
Six days after winning his latest high-profile case, Sebastien Stark is driving along, singing along with Mack The Knife when he gets a phone call. The man he defended has killed his wife. Stark breaks down. Then the mayor, Manuel Delgado [Carlos Gomez], offers him a position in the D.A.'s office – and gives him three good reasons why he'll take it. Amazingly, Stark takes the job!
Now the nastiest, snarkiest defense lawyer in the known universe is prosecuting, and D.A. Jessica Devlin [Jeri Ryan, Dark Skies, Star Trek: Voyager] assigns him a miserable case: a young woman on trial for murder, who claims she was defending herself against a rape. Even better, Devlin assigns him a team that consists solely of lawyers who are in her bad books. Best of all, the defense has unlimited funds and the case goes to court in forty-eight hours!
Meanwhile, Stark's relationship with his daughter, Julie [Danielle Pannabaker, Sky High], is rapidly deteriorating – in spite of her best efforts – and the Starks are due in court to set her custody in a very short while. For Stark, it's the worst of times and the worst of times…
With forty-eight hours until trial, Stark shows that, whether he's on the side of the angels or no, he's one mean motherscooter. He builds his team's morale by rattling off a list of their shortcomings and introducing them to his "Cutthroat Manifesto" – three rules with which he tries every case: 1. Trial is war – second place is death; 2. Truth is relative – pick one that works; 3. In a jury trial, there only twelve opinions that matter – and yours is, most assuredly, not one of them!
On the plus side of the ledger, his team is joined by Madeline Poe [Sarah Carter], a hungry, ambitious young lawyer who plans to go into private practice and wants to learn from the best. "Sucking up," notes Stark, "always a good tactic." On the negative, he upbraids one of his team, and she says, "If I'm such a screw up, why don't you fire me?" he fires her! [How to win friends and influence people – not!]
Much of the trial material is standard stuff – though Stark's full-scale basement courtroom [made with items from famous old courtrooms] is not only different, but also the one over-the-top note in the show. His use of mock juries and forensics echoes that of the previously premiered "Justice," but his family issues are definitely his own.
Danielle Pannabaker shines as his daughter. She obviously cares about her dad – in spite of his absent-minded parental behavior. She makes one of the most important decisions in the premiere, and makes it for the most logical reasons – but it works on an emotional level because of what she brings to it. Plus, she provides the most cogent analysis of Stark's new career as a prosecutor: "I really thought you'd changed. It turns out you just changed sides."
Woods owns the screen whenever he's on and the only cast member – other than Pannabaker] who holds her own with him is Ryan, who's more-than-slightly-disgruntled D.A. Devlin gives as good as she gets. Stark's team is mostly colorless [not in terms of diversity, but in terms of presence] and it remains to see if they'll be developed at all – one of the strength's of House, of course, being that House's team has been developing as characters since Day One.
Spike Lee directed the premiere, and he does a good job of taking material that's only slightly better than average and playing it up. Lee is a genius and between his direction and performances from Woods, Ryan and Pannabaker, I'm definitely interested enough to see if the series can develop into top-flight entertainment. For now, though, it's the main cast that makes Shark worth watching – and they are spectacular.
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