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"Just Legal" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 10/13/2005

Why was the WB’s “Just Legal” cancelled after only three episodes, making it the second new show to be cancelled this season behind FOX’s “Head Cases?”  Aside from the obvious fact that it did badly in the ratings, it was the oldest skewing show on the youth-obsessed WB network.  I guess you could say that I’m still a “youth” at the age of 30, since I’m within the coveted 18-34 demographic, but I really liked the show.  Even though I’m giving it the same rating as “Head Cases,” there are a couple of things that made it slightly better than that FOX show.

David “Skip” Ross (Jay Baruchel) is an exceptional 19-year-old legal prodigy (he is nicknamed “Skip” because he skipped so many grades) who dreams of becoming a great trial lawyer.  He can’t seem to get a job at any prestigious L.A. firms because he’s too young though.  Skip’s middle-class parents, Deborah (Julie Warner) and Lenny Ross (Raphael Sbarge), and his not-quite-as-gifted younger brother Tom (Reiley McClendon), all support him, but want him to watch out for himself.  Skip ends up working for Grant Cooper (Don Johnson), who was once a great lawyer, but is now a burnt-out mess who drinks heavily and is barely making ends meet with his beachfront law office in Venice.  Skip and Grant team up to take on cases that other lawyers won’t touch.  Skip’s enthusiasm fuels Grant’s desire to get off his lawyer butt and actually work again, and Grant offers Skip his years of experience in this partnership.  Dulcinea “Dee” Real (Jaime Lee Kirchner) is their paroled convict receptionist, and Kate Manat (Susan Ward) is a former law school classmate of Skip who works for a rival firm.

In the first episode, a young woman named Paradise Colvin (Peyton List) is busted for a gang-related murder during a drug raid.  Back in main character world, a man (Michael Cavanaugh) at a law firm interviews Skip, who tells him that they would be lucky to have him…in five years.  Grant interviews Paradise (he is her court-appointed attorney), who tells Detective James Walsh (John Mese) that he has gotten her fifteen years.  Skip and Tom are Grant’s caddies at a golf course, where Tom helps Grant hustle other golfers.  Grant offers him a job writing legal briefs for him, and says that he can be his second chair during a few court-appointed trials.  During his representation of Paradise, Judge Sarah Abrahams (Amy Aquino) orders that Skip be first chair at the trial, since apparently Grant was required to have a second chair and that Skip was the smarter of the two.  Grant had told Skip to have her plead guilty, but Paradise tells him that she didn’t do it.  Skip enters a plea of not guilty, angering Grant.  Paradise tells them that her boyfriend Kem Hunt (Bradley Stryker) was the one who killed the rival drug dealer.  Skip finds out that Grant hasn’t even read the case file, and he is baffled when Grant makes no attempt to help the girl out while they question Kem, because Grant has already assumed that Paradise is guilty.  In Walsh’s office, Skip finds out that Grant used to be a great attorney, but a client of his was found guilty and sentenced to lethal injection in 1991.  Now the only work Grant can get is the cases that Walsh throws at him.  Skip serves him a subpoena anyway, ordering him to testify in Paradise’s trial.  At the trial, Skip cross-examines the coroner (Faran Tahir) on how the fatal knife blow to the victim was committed.  The coroner uses a pencil and knocks the wind out of Skip.  Grant meets with Walsh, who orders Grant to fire Skip.  Grant tells Skip that he can do whatever he wants, but that he is pulling out of the case himself.  The next day, Skip calls Walsh to the stand, points out that Paradise was lying to protect Kem, and proves that Walsh knew Kem, because he had arrested him before on two separate occasions.  Skips asks Walsh why he didn’t bother to fully investigate her claim or why he didn’t question any other witnesses.  Kem visits Paradise in jail, which spooks her and makes her refuse to testify against her boyfriend.  Back at the trial, she says that she didn’t see Kem kill the guy, but Skip points out that she had already testified that she hadn’t seen the murder at all, so she was fibbing.  The D.A. (Russell Wong) pulls out a bloodstained denim jacket that Paradise was wearing at the time of the murder.  Skip wants her to try on the jacket to prove that it wouldn’t fit, but the judge doesn’t allow it.  The jacket belonged to her sister Kim (Kim Moran Greene.)  Grant, who is back helping with the case, tells Walsh that Paradise is innocent.  Walsh doesn’t care…he is just interested in closing cases (he is just a really lazy detective I have noticed.)  Grant severs their partnership by punching Walsh in the face.  Paradise explains to Skip that Kim had done the killing in self-defense, but that that she didn’t want Kim to be arrested and mess up her schooling.  Grant does the closing, and it manages to work, because the jury finds her not guilty.  As Skip appeals her sentence (the judge had sentenced her to a suspended 10-year sentence of hiding a murder weapon and giving a false confession), Grant walks off into the sunset, satisfied that he is still a decent lawyer.

In the second episode, a young black man named Zeke Rawlins (Jocko Sims) is arrested for fleeing the scene of a convenience store murder.  He tells Skip and Grant that he didn’t do it, because he is a church-going guy who works two jobs and supports his grandmother.  He was only in the store to buy a pop, when the thief/killer entered and shot the clerk.  He only ran because he didn’t want to get shot himself.  Grant says the police arrested him because Zeke was the NPC (nearest person of color.)  Skip thinks that it is racist, and Grant says that it is just a fact of life.  The next day, Skip meets Dee.  He finds out that she is a parolee and a former client of Grant that he lets her pretend to be his receptionist in order to fulfill her employment requirements.  She has been with him for six months, but she just hangs around at the beach.  Skip asks Grant why she doesn’t actually be their receptionist, since they need one, and Grant says that he doesn’t like a lot of people around his office.  Skip and Grant run into Kate, who had just been hired by a firm called Marshall Brickman, a firm that Skip had tried to interview for in the past (he also has a crush on her.)  Skip and Grant meet with the D.A. named Dietz (Will Cortlandt), who tells them that he won’t take a plea deal, because the store has been hit six times before, so he is going for a conviction.  He also tells them that they had an eyewitness named Mr. Sizemore who saw the robbery.  They go to Sizemore’s house to question him, but he refuses to answer any questions.  They try to question the owner of the convenience store, who gives them the same cold shoulder.  Skip notices a cab driver named George Newhouse parked outside the store.  He questions George, and he tells Skip what he wants to know and even offers to testify…for $5000 (they don’t take him up on it, because the testimony is unreliable, and they don’t have the money.)  Skip questions Zeke about the robbery and why he had $325 in his pocket when he was stopped (the robbers got away with $500.)  Zeke is offended, stating that the money was going to be used to buy his grandmother a television.  Dee points out that not everyone in Zeke’s neighborhood are in a gang, but Dietz shows up in Grant’s office to show him a picture of Zeke at a party with known gang bangers.  He thinks that Zeke killed the clerk out of retaliation, since one of the members of the other guys’ gang was convicted for robbery at the same store.  Zeke tells Skip and Grant that he knew those guys, but they weren’t friends.  In court, Skip asks why the murder weapon had no fingerprints on it, and the arresting officer (Joseph Patrick Kelly) said that the gun was too cheap to get any usable prints.  Skip accuses the officer of just arresting the NPC, and Judge Mosley (James Shanklin) sustains Dietz’s objection.  Back in Grant’s office, Dee asks him why he is working with Skip, and he tells her that the kid might bring in some revenue.  Back in court, Grant cross-examines Sizemore and proves that he didn’t see the defendant rob the store, because Sizemore can’t tell black people apart.  Dee agrees to do actual work in Grant’s office, but insists on no criticism, no dress code, and a raise.  In court, Dietz asks Zeke if he knew the dead clerk and if the clerk was in a gang.  Zeke says that he knew the clerk, but he didn’t know that he was in a gang.  As the defense rests, Dietz calls one last witness…George.  George lies on the stand, saying that Zeke killed the clerk.  Skip tries to discredit George, but it doesn’t work well enough.  Grant thinks that Skip should close, since the jury likes him.  Dietz presents a weak closing, and Skip does a good one, even though it was a little heady at first.  Kate later tells Skip that she was jealous of his accomplishments and she wishes that she could be a trial lawyer instead of a corporate one, but Skip suggests that she should go for it, she replies that Skip is clueless (I didn’t get that one either.)  The jury comes back with a not guilty verdict, and Grant tells Zeke he should go home to see his grandmother.  When Skip and Grant get back to the office, they notice that Dee has cleaned and repainted the office, which ticks Grant off for some odd reason.

In the third (and final) episode, Skip and Grant discuss their first civil case.  A woman named Nadine Ashford (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is suing her plastic surgeon, Dr. Steven Benson of the West L.A. Surgical Center, after he left her paralyzed from the waist down, following a tummy tuck.  Kate’s boss, Marshall (David Starzyk), asks if anyone knows anything about Grant.  She says that she only met him once, but that she went to school with his associate Skip, and they shouldn’t be a problem for them.  Skip and Grant argue over how they should handle this case.  Grant wants to settle, but Skip wants to take it to trial.  Dee talks to Skip and convinces him to help Grant see the errors of his ways.  He and Dee meet with Nadine, who said that she wanted to get the tummy tuck so that she could fit into a bikini (she really didn’t look that bad, something that Skip noticed.)  Skip meets with Kate, who urges him to settle the case.  He tells Grant that he thinks that they should take their offer of $120,000, but Grant thinks otherwise, since Marshall called him and asked for a meeting (he thinks that Marshall will up the amount in order to settle.)  At the meeting, Marshall tells them that they will offer Nadine only $100,000, because they do not believe that Benson had anything to do with Nadine’s paralysis.  At the trial, Grant makes a weak opening statement, and then Marshall discredits Nadine by saying that she had tried illegal drugs in her past, and that she had paid for surgical procedures in the past.  Both Skip and Grant object, but Judge Nina Tonai (Patti Yasutake) overrules them, since it goes to Nadine’s character.  While Grant ponders why Benson botched the surgery, Skip and Dee see Kate in the elevator, who chews him out for not taking the settlement.  Grant decides to sell his vintage car to pay for a medical expert named Dr. Gupta (Iqbal Theba) to testify at the trial.  Unfortunately, the doctor hurts them as much as helps them.  The defense calls their medical expert, Dr. Simmons, and Skip discredits him.  Outside of court, Grant finds out that Benson is a drinker.  Skip meets with Kate and asks if she knows anything about Benson being a drinker.  She denies it, and they argue over who took the right path in their chosen law fields.  Grant and Dee try to serve Benson’s bartender Russ at the Bay City Beach Club with a subpoena, but he rips it up.  In the trial, Grant tries to question Benson about his drinking, but the judge throws the questioning about the drinking and the bar he drank in out.  Kate comes into Grant’s office that night and gives Skip some evidence that she thinks that they are entitled to.  The next day, they call Adam Richmond, a frequent patient of Dr. Benson, to the stand.  He testifies that he had met with Benson on the day of Nadine’s trial, and that he noticed that Benson was drunk.  The jury rules in favor of the plaintiff, but the judge only allows Nadine to receive the maximum cap of $250,000.  Kate congratulates Skip on his first civil case win, and admits that she should have just quit the firm.

I liked this show because of the developing chemistry between the two leads.  I was never a big fan of Johnson’s first two hit series, NBC’s “Miami Vice” and CBS’s “Nash Bridges,” but I liked him in this show.  He had a gruff charm that was entertaining.  I also liked Baruchel, but I am a little biased.  I will watch anything starring a member of producer Judd Apatow’s two cult series, NBC’s “Freaks and Geeks” and FOX’s “Undeclared,” and Baruchel was the lead in the latter show.  Aside from that, the 23-year-old actor played a very believable lawyer version of Doogie Howser.  With his nervousness and smarts, I could believe that he was a lawyer who may be green, but capable.

I could also see the chemistry between Skip and both Dee and Kate.  I’m not sure what Dee might have done romantically on the show, but she was a very capable assistant.  She wasn’t exactly all that “street” though, as she tried to be portrayed.  I could see a thing happening between Skip and Kate romantically, and I bet her suggestion at the end of the third episode would have happened eventually.  She probably would have come to join Grant’s firm, even though Grant didn’t like a lot of people hanging around.

I was very disappointed that they didn’t show more of Skip’s family.  Tom was an interesting character that I would have liked to have seen more of.

Jerry Bruckheimer produced “Just Legal,” and it is his second failed fictional series, behind the 2003 FOX series “Skin.”  Jonathan Shapiro created the show, and it is the first series for the former federal prosecutor-turned legal show writer.  He wrote for David E. Kelley’s ABC show “The Practice,” along with its spin-off, “Boston Legal.”  It has something in common with the latter, since both shows are legal shows that inject a lot of humor in them.  It is also similar to “Head Cases” in the mixture of comedy and legal drama.  The former Sonny Crockett may have appealed to the youth market in the ‘80s, but he is apparently not “hot” enough for the WB.  The network may like its geeks on reality shows, a la “Beauty and the Geek,” but this is the second show for Baruchel where he didn’t get any geek lovin’ from the audience.  It’s too bad…I would have awarded the show my viewing eyes, but apparently the rest of America found the show guilty of non-interest.

Ratings System:


Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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