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'The Firm' begins on shaky ground

By Rich Heldenfels

Akron Beacon Journal

Published: Saturday, Jan. 7 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Early in the NBC series premiere of "The Firm," lawyer Mitch McDeere tells his wife Abby, "It's happening again."

This is, you may be sure, not good news for McDeere. Nor does it appear to be all that delightful for TV viewers.

"The Firm," which has a two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday on NBC-Ch. 2 before moving to its regular time slot at 9 p.m. Thursday, is based on John Grisham's best-selling novel and the 1993 big-screen version starring Tom Cruise; both had Mitch as a young fellow who, fresh out of law school, signed with a firm that proved to have a sinister underpinning. The series, which has Josh Lucas as Mitch, picks up about 10 years after the end of the previous tale.

Mitch and his family have emerged from witness protection, and he is running a one-lawyer practice in Boston with help from his brother Ray (Callum Keith Rennie) and assistant Tammy Hemphill (Juliette Lewis, trying to steal every scene she is in). The practice has been shaky financially, with the hope of a big settlement in one case the only thing keeping it afloat. But Mitch may have another option: He is being recruited by a Andrew Palmer (Shaun Majumder) for the big firm where Palmer works.

And, yes, it happens again. If viewers do not anticipate that as soon as Palmer starts pitching, they certainly should when they see that the firm's managing partner, Alex Clark, is played by Tricia Helfer, an actress who always seems to imply villainy. Nor is the firm the only problem that Mitch faces.

I am trying to avoid excessive detail about Mitch's situation, although the series premiere makes immediately clear that he has run into trouble before flashing back to the earliest stages of the trouble. Let's note, though, that the premiere tries to fit in not only the big plot but smaller ones. (Mitch actually manages to handle a legal case.) And much of what it fits is either silly (Abby marveling that a woman has a high position at a law firm) or pointless (Molly Parker, who plays Abby, deserves a better role).

Nor am I convinced that there are enough ideas in "The Firm" to keep it going smoothly for long. Even the 1993 movie seemed stretched out at about 21/2 hours, far less than this series has to come up with. And it had a cast that included Gene Hackman, Wilford Brimley, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter and Ed Harris to carry it over the weak spots.

The TV cast is all right, but it's not on that level. Lucas seems especially bland. And I resent it taking the time slot of the much better "Prime Suspect."

Dist. by MCT Information Services

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