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Outlaw -- TV Review

"Outlaw"

The Bottom Line

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Given the credibility of its premise, "Outlaw" could begin with a narrator saying, "Once upon a time ... ." The idea that a young Supreme Court justice in the rare position of being a tiebreaker on crucial decisions would resign hastily to avoid exposing his very public gambling habit is preposterous.

It would be like the U.S. Senate approving a Supreme Court nominee who sees pubic hair on his can of Coke. Or as likely as NBC picking up a series from Conan O'Brien's production company after their long, public and bitter separation.

OK, bad examples.

Still, it might seem hard to sell a scenario in which one of the brethren forsakes the cloistered life of the Supreme Court for the rough-and-tumble world of courtroom trials. Or maybe that didn't matter to executive producer David Kissinger, who conceived the premise, and executive producer John Eisendrath, who wrote the pilot. Perhaps they figured, not unreasonably, that if you can sign Jimmy Smits to play the lead role of Cyrus Garza, viewers are bound to go along.

To a degree, a large degree, they would be justified in that sort of thinking. Smits' take on idealistic attorney Victor Sifuentes made him one of the most memorable characters on "L.A. Law," one of TV's most memorable law series. And though he's done heavy lifting on "NYPD Blue" and "The West Wing" since then, it's clear from "Outlaw" that Smits continues to be a commanding presence in a courtroom drama. Although Garza enjoys a flashier and more hedonistic lifestyle than Sifuentes ever imagined, both have a passion for the little guy.

Smits' charisma, plus the fact that future episodes promise more intellectually involving stories, bode well for this series.

In "Outlaw" (a dismal title, by the way, for a series that, at its heart, pays homage to the judicial system), Smits is surrounded by a capable and endearing supporting cast. Carly Pope plays rule-bending investigator Lucinda Pearl, whose look and lines account for about 95% of the show's sexual content. Ellen Woglom is Mereta Sprows, the assistant with a crush on Garza, and Jesse Bradford is Eddie Franks, Garza's right-leaning assistant. David Ramsey, introduced in the pilot as a lawyer for a man about to be wrongly executed, joins Garza as a sort of junior partner.
There are strong production values, as well, including an eye for authentic detail and effective use of subtle but dramatic lighting.

Unlike the generic and largely predictable story in the pilot, future episodes have Garza and his team parachuting into one hot spot after another, tackling issues ripped from the headlines.

In the second episode, Garza gets involved in the controversial Arizona law that requires police to determine whether a person stopped for an offense is in the U.S. legally. Don't assume, though, that he will be on the side of those protesting the measure.

Following tonight's sneak preview, "Outlaw" will join the NBC schedule next week in the tougher 10 p.m. Friday slot.

Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15 (NBC)
Production: Conaco Prods. in association with Universal Media Studios
Cast: Jimmy Smits, David Ramsey, Carly Pope, Jesse Bradford, Ellen Woglom, Melora Hardin, RZA, Pedro Armendariz, Dennis Boutsikaris, Amina Robinson
Executive producers: John Eisendrath, David Kissinger, Richard Schwartz
Producer: Caroline James
Co-producer: Erin Scotto
Director: Terry George
Creator-writer: John Eisendrath
Director of photography: Michael Bonvillain
Production designer: Kalina Ivanov
Editors: Marty Nicholson, Lauren Schaffer
Music: James Levine
Set decorator: Chryss Hionis
Casting: Joseph Middleton, Deanna Brigidi-Stewart