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JAN
6
2 YEARS

Review: 'The Firm' Still Average 20 Years Later as a Television Series

NBC makes law procedural from old book, film.

The Firm Josh Lucas Jan 8 - H 2012
Steve Wilkie/NBC

There may be something NBC knows that others don’t about the lasting legacy of The Firm, because not only has the network turned the book/movie into a weekly series, it has given the show an eyebrow-raising 22 episode commitment.

Is there nostalgia at work here for something that’s nearly 20 years old? Or is NBC putting its foot on that unfirm ground where everyone thinks using the name of something familiar (Prime Suspect, anyone?) will be the door that opens for a lot of new viewers?

We shall see. The two-hour premiere of The Firm on Sunday (9 p.m.) is likely to snag viewers who are on the lookout for yet another legal thriller and don’t mind being diverted from the central shocker for most of those two hours. In the meantime they’ll get a solid if unspectacular story about one of the most unlucky lawyers ever depicted on television.

Actor Josh Lucas does a fine job of reinventing Mitch McDeere, the lawyer Tom Cruise portrayed in the original film, though this time he’s more idealistic than eager. The series picks up 10 years after McDeere has been in witness protection for taking down the Memphis firm of the original. Why does he leave? A mob boss who was collateral damage from the Memphis meltdown and who had it out for Mitch is now dead.

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So Mitch, wife Abby (Molly Parker, Deadwood), their 10-year-old daughter (Natasha Calis), Mitch’s brother Ray (Callum Keith Rennie, Battlestar Galactica) and sassy assistant Tammy (Juliette Lewis) all decamp to Washington, D.C. to start their lives fresh with Mitch kicking his one-man firm into action.

But of course it’s never that easy, as the opening scene reveals: Mitch is running for his life, chased by three nefarious suits through D.C. until Mitch can get to a pay phone and tell Abby the code-red news: It’s happening again. (Yes, pay phone. The Firm seems a bit dated on a lot of levels, but just go with it.)

That extended scene will probably hook a lot of viewers to keep going, as The Firm flashes back to how Mitch could have gotten into this mess in the first place. Unfortunately, that tale takes a long, long time to unfold and encompasses a couple of rote legal cases (one of which stretches probability to its extremes). But, in fairness, that gives The Firm a chance to establish character traits: As Mitch, Lucas is a good actor, easy on the eyes and believable in any number of situations (which bodes well for the series). Abby is a dutiful wife but is worried that Mitch’s struggling solo firm doesn’t have enough paying clients to pay the mortgage. More important for emotional reasons, Mitch’s daughter is tired of running – she’s never had time to settle down and make real friends. We also learn that Ray did some prison time for manslaughter and is now a private investigator for Mitch. He’s also dating Tammy, the office assistant (Holly Hunter’s role in the movie). Tammy likes to smoke, wear short skirts and complain.

But of course it wouldn’t be called The Firm if said establishment was just Mitch helping people who can’t pay him. Nope. Through a series of twists (that get explained in a rush at the end of the pilot), Mitch hooks up with – wait for it – another firm.

It’s a firm that seems too good to be true – because it is. And now Mitch appears to be the least lucky lawyer in the world at choosing a workplace. Oh, and that mobster who died, allowing Mitch and company to leave witness protection? He’s got a son – seeking revenge. Now you know where the thrills are going to come from (but better those than more predictable court cases).

Obviously, The Firm is a franchise that NBC believes still has legs a couple of decades on. And television never has enough law series to satiate the public, so maybe with 22 guaranteed episodes, people might take a chance on reinvigorated nostalgia.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine