The Firm — Pilot / Chapter Two

I’d heard buzz about The Firm, NBC’s “ten years later” version of John Grisham’s novel: it’s awful, the dialogue is incompetent, there’s no way it survives, etc. This has to be exaggeration, right? It’s got all these awesome actors (Josh Lucas, mega-crush Molly Parker, Tricia Helfer, Callum Keith Rennie (<3), Shaun Majumder (<3 <3)), it’s got the outlines of a successful story (the mob! Plucky lawyer! Evil firm!), it’s got a basic level of competence that comes from an experienced TV writer at the helm.

But no. The dialogue is laughably bad, going beyond the standard HERE’S EXPOSITION of a typical pilot to out-and-out corniness. Children don’t talk the way the 10-year-old talks, judges don’t talk the way the judge talks, defense lawyers don’t talk the way this random defense lawyer talks. And this bugs me. I know that writing natural dialogue while also hewing to TV conventions must be hard, or else more shows would be better at it. And yet! How hard can it be? It makes me question whether these writers have ever sat somewhere and listened to people talk.

The stories didn’t feel entirely incompetent. Bullets of what I assume you’ll see through the season:

  • case of the week (here a 14-year-old murderer)
  • home/family (daughter has moved around a lot, wants a normal life)
  • mob (son of guy who tried to kill Josh Lucas back in the day is now in charge)
  • firm (Josh Lucas joins a biggish firm; he thinks it’s because they want a piece of this big tort case he has, but it’s really FOR MYSTERIOUS REASONS SEMI-REVEALED IN A SHADOWY MEETING)
  • tort-case (see last parenthetical)

There’s a lot going on, plenty to play with and weave together, but this pilot caused me to start in disbelief or yell at the screen in frustration so often that I don’t feel confident that the creative team will pull this off.

A non-exclusive list of examples:

  • the courtroom scenes were terrible; I think they’d feel implausible and silly whether you’re a lawyer or not
  • the idea that “the mob” would appoint some 25-year-old kid as boss of the family now that his father is dead will bug any Sopranos or Godfather fans
  • the chase scene that opens the episode goes on far too long
  • multiple times I got lost or startled by a cut
  • the show generally panders to the most gullible denominator, for instance using an in-scene misdirect so many times that even those who fell for it the first two times should have seen it coming the last time the writers went to that well

All of this makes me a bit sad that I won’t get to spend any time with these actors going forward, but based on what I’ve read about the ratings the pilot did, this won’t be a problem: Callum Keith Rennie will be looking for new work soon enough.

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About Jason Wojciechowski

I do law
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