Jimmy Smits is Hardcastle Without McCormick

NBC is premiering the Jimmy Smits vehicle “Outlaw” tonight after America’s Got Talent. Unfortunately, I only got the screener today, so others have beaten me to pointing out that this is one of the most ridiculous pilots in a long time. Everything is hilarious except the comedy bits (Canada’s own Carly Pope as a sexy researcher/investigator who attempts to get laughs by talking about how sexy she is and how everyone wants her for sex). As a ripped-from-the-headlines legal drama, it seems to mostly exist to throw The Good Wife into sharper relief: everything that show did right to keep from seeming exploitative or silly, this show does, and then does again, and does double.

The story of a conservative Supreme Court justice who suddenly turns liberal, quits the court, and starts his own rag-tag law firm to fight all the cases he used to judge is an implausible one, but implausible stories can work if they either a) Embrace their implausibility or b) Ground the premise in a certain amount of reality. There’s not a thing in the pilot of Outlaw that feels remotely real; the main question from moment to moment is what kind of fantasy they’re incorporating. One moment, when Smits is threatened with impeachment by the conservative politicians who put him on the court, is grounded in paranoid fantasy; the resolution of the cases is law-show fantasy where everybody finds the precedent or evidence they need; Smits’s character combines every fantasy of a “maverick,” both in his personal life and straight-talkin’ ways, plus the typical Hollywood fantasy of someone who splits the difference between left and right. (Really, every character is a collection of stereotypical character traits which they feel compelled to announce at every moment.) There’s even Three’s Company-style farce misunderstanding, except making that show look sophisticated. And yet with all this, the tone of the show suggests that they have no idea how silly they are. Say what you will about Hardcastle and McCormick, but that show knew it was silly and acted like a show about a crime-solving rogue ex-judge ought to act. This show, on the other hand, is quite serious except during the comic relief moments, which merely make the “serious” bits look funnier by comparison.

Apart from that, the show offers the expected: middle-aged star surrounded by young, pretty team; lots of intense music (NBC doesn’t pile on the music quite as much as ABC, for those who care about such things), legal jargon delivered as fast as possible — as if it’s Treknobabble, which I guess it sort of is — people who can find any information they want, classified or otherwise; and much bad dialogue like “People lie. Maggots don’t.” But all that is what you’d expect from a mediocre lawyer show. It’s the piling of silly on top of silly that makes this show so promising for those who really look for bad, as opposed to just mediocre, television. Part of me really wants to see this show get even worse as it goes on, just because really terrible shows are as rare as really great ones, and this show has the most potential for epic badness.

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