January 9, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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THE FIRM:  Thursdays 10PM on NBC – Change the Channel
THE FIRM isn’t NBC’s #1 priority for midseason–that would clearly be Smash (In other news, there’s no truth to the rumor that NBC has decided to change its corporate name to “Smash–The Monday After the Super Bowl”.)  But The Firm is the inheritor of the network’s once-grand Thursday 10PM timeslot from the busted Prime Suspect, making it an important part of the line-up.  And NBC has taken enough hits by now–after years of battering and the network’s gradual loss of its years’-long arrogance, it’s not even fun to beat the place up anymore.  So it’s not with any joy, but with simple obligation, that it’s necessary to call The Firm out for the terrible, tedious show it is.

Technically, the series is an extension/sequel to John Grisham’s 1991 best-selling novel–the book that made his career–as well as Sydney Pollack’s gold-plated 1993 film version, which starred Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Triplehorn, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, David Straitharn, and half the character actors in Hollywood.  The show is set 10 years after the events of the book and movie, in which lead character Mitch McDeere (Cruise in 1993, Josh Lucas now), was pursued by a murderous, mobster-controlled Memphis law firm and had to go into witness protection.  McDeere and his family (Molly Parker in the Triplehorn part, Callum Keith Rennie taking over David Strathairn’s role as Mitch’s ex-con brother who’s now private investigator for Mitch’s law firm, and Juliette Lewis as the brother’s girlfriend and Mitch’s assistant, plus a new character of the McDeeres’ 10-year old daughter) have come out of the program and relocated in Washington DC–although actually the series is shot on a low budget in Canada, so after a brief slam-bang (extra cost) opening sequence, there’s no effort at all to even simulate a DC setting–where Mitch and company have started a struggling small firm.
The 2-hour pilot barely pays lip service to the carryover plot from the original novel, although there are hints that it’ll become a more prominent thread at some point, since the Memphis mobster Mitch was responsible for overthrowing has a college-age son who will now presumably be on his tail.  Instead, the show is mostly a familiar procedural, with Mitch representing criminal defendants and an Erin Brockovich-type product liability claimant.  The wrinkle is that in order to get the resources to fight his cases, Mitch has to associate his scrappy firm with a larger and clearly evil one headed by Tricia Helfer (6 from Battlestar Galactica–at some point she and Rennie will have a scene together and we’ll get a mini-BSG reunion), which of course has nefarious and ulterior motives related to a murder case Mitch is defending.  Eventually the evil firm will probably tie in with the Memphis boy gangster, although that hasn’t happened yet.
The Firm may improve in its regular 1-hour format, but as a 2-hour pilot, it commits the cardinal sin of being flat-out boring.  It’s also frequently ludicrous and often horribly written (by Lucas Reiter), with dialogue that sounds like the poor actors, who’ve all proved their very solid talents elsewhere, are reading out place-holder lines from a script outline.  Grisham’s novels themselves can often be accused of some of the same flaws, but he’s such a master of rip-roaring pace that his books work despite their deficiencies.  Slowing down his kind of mush, especially when the tone is utterly humorless as well, is nothing less than suicidal for TV drama, and the result is painful. 
If NBC is to regain anything like its old form, it needs to embrace some kind of identity, something other than the scatter-shot desperation that (except in its Thursday sit-coms) has been its mode for the past half-decade.  Smash, based on its pilot, could be a step in that right direction.  The Firm, though, offers no identity beyond bland mediocrity.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."