The Verdict on ‘Canterbury’s Law’

While other networks are scrambling to get their shows back into production after the writers’ strike, Fox is taking advantage of the lull to debut some new series.  Last week it was New Amsterdam.  This week it’s Canterbury’s Law.  But will this advantage be enough to secure a hit for the new Julianna Margulies series?

Canterburys LawOn one hand, any new scripted series in the wake of the strike is a welcome treat to those that have been inundated with reality shows as of late.  On the other, Canterbury’s Law is airing on Fox, a network that is not known to be nice to series that aren’t instant hits.

But in the end, I think it’s the characters that’ll be the downfall of the series.

Firstly, I’m not entirely sure that Margulies is believable as Elizabeth Canterbury, a hard core lawyer willing to do anything to get her clients off.  It’s going to take more to shake the Florence Nightingale image of Carol Hathaway that I have in my head of Margulies from her ER days.

Secondly, I don’t like Canterbury’s character.  She’s not only immoral (she’s cheating on her husband), but she’s unethical (she’s sleeping with a client and she coaches a client to lie). 

Now I’ve watched and am a fan of some shows (House, for example) where the lead is less that upstanding, but for some reason it doesn’t work for Elizabeth. 

I wondered if it was because she was a woman.  For some reason, when women play dirty, people are more offended.  Do we hold our female characters to higher standards?

Flawed heroes are not a new thing. But maybe the fact that Elizabeth uses the very clients she’s supposed to be protecting to get at the bad guys is what doesn’t sit well.  Most people don’t have high standards for lawyers in general (no offense to any lawyers reading), but I think that at least on TV we hope that the “good” guys have some principles. 

At least twice, Elizabeth belittles witnesses on the stand – once with a cop who couldn’t see his own shoes because of his belly, but testified he saw a class ring at his feet and once when she pronounced the prosecution’s doctor’s name as Hack instead of the appropriate Hawk (the name was spelled Hak).  The jabs were funny.  But they made me question her litigation skills if she has to resort to such gimmicks.

But Elizabeth seems to sink to even lower levels.  In the opening episode, Elizabeth coaches her client to lie all so she can get the real guilty party on the stand and prove he did it.  The plan works, but she sacrificed our faith in the justice system to do it.

And speaking of her client, it was very hard to feel sympathetic for him.  I think it was clear from the beginning he wasn’t guilty, but he still had such a creepy vibe that you kind of wanted him locked up for his own well being.

Then, let’s look at Canterbury’s team.  It looks like Fox tried to bank on House’s formula for success with a similar three-member team – one girl, two guys (one white and one black).  But I have news for them; the combination didn’t work for me.

Molly (Tireste Kelly Dunn) doesn’t even seem to have what it takes to be a defense attorney.  Not only does she side with the family against her boss, but she gets all weepy over pictures of the missing boy.  In House, Cameron’s compassion makes her a better doctor, it doesn’t inhibit her.

Russell (Ben Shenkman) seems to have loyalty issues.  He’s working for Elizabeth because she was the only one that would hire him.  But when he doubts her, he leaks critical information to the prosecution.  It’s only after the Deputy Attorney General (Terry Kinney) crosses him (apparently again) that Russell even bothers to stick up for Elizabeth.  And he seems to care less about the client. 

And we didn’t get to see enough of Chester Grant (Keith Robinson) to get a read on his character.  But from what I’ve read he’s trying to escape his Congressman father’s shadow.

In House, the team seems to complement House, even making up for his bad attributes.  In Canterbury’s Law the team seems to be working against each other.

And in attempt to humanize Elizabeth, we find out at the end of the episode her relationship with husband Matt Furey (Aiden Quinn) is strained by the unsolved disappearance of their son.  We aren’t given enough information to form an opinion on this situation, but from upcoming previews it appears that her husband blames her.

It’s clear that Elizabeth’s schemes, such as the one where she sent in Private Investigator Frank Angstrom (James McCaffrey) to get a read on a juror, are going to get her in trouble.  The question is: are we going to care enough about Elizabeth to watch her watch her battle to stay out of jail.

If you missed the pilot, you can watch it online at fox.com/canterburyslaw.  Canterbury’s Law airs on Fox Mondays at 8 p.m.

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