'Harry's Law' TV Review: New Legal Series Should Be Tried for Lameness

Harry's Law - TV Still Kathy Bates - 2011
Jordin Althaus/NBC Universal
"Harry's Law" is David E. Kelley unfortunately getting the green light to be himself again. The show is unbelievable and a waste of Kathy Bates' considerable talents as Kelley's predictable quirkiness once again kills a show's watchability. 

You don’t give up on gifted writers, even when they seem incapable of escaping their own ruts. All you can do is hope that at some point they can be forced down a different path and pray the results are different.

David E. Kelley is not on a new path with Harry’s Law (which debuts Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC), and the evidence couldn’t be more obvious or painful in the first few minutes. A young man trying to kill himself jumps from a building and lands on Harriet “Harry” Korn (Kathy Bates), our lead character who is fired from her job as a patent lawyer because she’s bored and depressed with it, smoking pot in her office and watching cartoons.

Of course she survives the fall. “A black man fell from the sky and landed on her head” says her assistant, Jenna (Brittany Snow). Barely bruised, Harry is released and promptly hit by a car driven by Adam (Nate Corddry), who will eventually work for Harry because he found her awesome as a patent lawyer and the show apparently needs one more comic foil. He signs on for “the chance to pick your nose for two weeks -- I mean brain there…” As for the accident that sent her flying, she landed on a mattress on a mover’s truck. “It doesn’t make any medical sense to me, but you’re fine,” says the doctor.

Nothing makes any sense. It’s a David Kelley show. Where once his relentless quirkiness, belief in passionate lawyer-speak and willingness to crash tones together seemed original, it quickly became a crutch. But Kelley has been enabled by series like Boston Legal, and so why should he change his style, which now seems more like a brand?

In Kelley’s world, what happens to Bates in the first few minutes sends up absolutely no red flags. And there’s apparently no one around him to say that rarest of words successful show creators need to sometimes hear: “No.”

And so Harry opens up her new legal enterprise in a hooker- and drug-infested part of Cincinnati that just happens to have lost a high-end shoe store, perhaps to the economy or perhaps to the strange notion that selling Prada shoes next to pimps is good for business. In any case, the shoes are essential because Jenna, Harry’s assistant, loves shoes. So Jenna decides that the new firm will have a legal element but will also be a shoe store. “Harriet’s Law and Fine Shoes,” she says, answering the phone.

Does this now sound utterly and ridiculously like a Kelley show? Thought so.

Harry’s Law is, first and foremost, a colossal waste of Bates’ talent.

There’s no reason it can’t be a shoe store and a law firm, Jenna says to Harry. In Kelley’s world, that is true. In the real world. it’s not. It’s just stupid. Not whimsical, not quirky, just stupid.

Beyond that, Harry’s Law is littered with bogus courtroom rambling on soap boxes so tall they are an insurance claim waiting to happen. Let’s legalize drugs, Harry goes off, and the next thing you know she’s talking about stupid Republicans and Rush Limbaugh. It’s all cheap, easy, predictable and not very clever.

Layered upon the lectures are gobs of sap, as two African-American clients (one a drug addict going to college but facing a third-strike charge, the other a lovable goon who leans on merchants for protection money -- but they love him dearly!) desperately need Harry’s help. And she does help them, although the treacly piano music meant to pull your heartstrings will have you vomiting in the nearest bed-side or couch-side cylindrical object, so you may not be able to figure out how she pulled it off. 

Do you want to know a feel-good story that would help television immensely? If Harry’s Law failed miserably -- now bring up the piano and strings in this part -- and Kelley went home, reconsidered his strengths, then came back with something completely different next time. No crutches, no quirks, no lawyers, no stupidity. Just a show that allows him to reconnect with his talent. Fade to black. Kill the saccharine music. And, redemption. 

Email Tim Goodman at Tim.Goodman@THR.com