New series "Deep End" a legal quagmire

Wed Jan 20, 2010 8:55pm EST

Cast members Mehcad Brooks (L) and Tina Majorino of the series ''The Deep End'' participate in a panel discussion at the Disney ABC winter 2010 Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California, January 12, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Cast members Mehcad Brooks (L) and Tina Majorino of the series ''The Deep End'' participate in a panel discussion at the Disney ABC winter 2010 Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California, January 12, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - There are hundreds -- well, perhaps dozens -- of reasons why anyone would want to become a lawyer, but after watching ABC's new Thursday drama "The Deep End," it's hard to think of one.

Aspiring to be a kind of "West Wing" for fresh-faced first-years at a big law firm, "Deep" plunges without hesitation into a frothing shark tank and leaves its lead characters -- and viewers -- struggling to stay afloat.

That said, in this case drowning, not swimming, is not necessarily a bad thing. There's a certain gamesmanship in trying to keep up with what feels like hundreds of characters thrown out in just the first episode. There's the clutch of largely naive lawyer wannabes, treated like wallpaper by senior co-workers until they show a little grit; the po-faced clients thrust upon them; and the scheming, feuding, sometimes-married firm partners they have to dodge around yet please, no questions asked.

But despite the Dickensian volume of cast members to get to know, creator-writer David Hemingson keeps story lines crisp, clear and often playful. For starters, there's wholesome Dylan, who manufactures the perfect negotiation out of sheer idealism; feisty, underrated Susan, who goes to jail rather than miss a motion-filing deadline; and roguish senior lawyer Rowdy (the gloriously impish Norbert Leo Butz), who "mentors" one newbie in secret: "I help you with my mind."

Perfect? Far from it: "Deep" can drift into lazy dialogue (characters really say "you are my only hope" and "screw your conscience"), the humor can be sub-Apatow juvenile (two circumcision jokes in one episode? Really?) and the more soap-operatic tendencies (is the final scene an outtake from "Melrose Place?") are tiresome.

But the only thing more fun than seeing know-it-all lawyers get mud on their shoes is watching as the young 'uns learn the ropes, maneuvering around ethical quandaries and scoring cheap snacks from the food trays after partner meetings. The show benefits from a true insider's feel of the biz, and that helps spackle over the softer spots. Given half a chance, "Deep" should get along swimmingly.

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