September 28, 2012



MADE IN JERSEY:  Friday 9PM on CBS – Change the Channel

CBS is the network of The Good Wife, but don’t get your hopes up for its new legal drama MADE IN JERSEY.  This one is a thin example of why the words “CBS Drama” typically get little respect, an undistinctive procedural with nothing but warmed-over meat on its bones.

The concept, as created by Dana Calvo (previously a writer/producer on Covert Affairs and Greek) is to mix Marisa Tomei’s character from My Cousin Vinny (minus the laughs and sex appeal) with Melanie Griffith’s from Working Girl (ditto), add Malcolm McDowell’s rich-but-kindly senior partner from Franklin & Bash, throw in some predictable detective-show plotting, and shake.  Martina Garretti (Janet Montgomery) is the first member of her boisterous working-class Jersey family to go to college, much less law school, and now she’s a first-year associate at a snooty New York law firm where blonde goddesses like Stephanie March (playing an even more arch version of her Law & Order:  SVU character) look down their noses at her big hair, but must admire her spunk, determination and insights into ordinary defendants and witnesses.

It’s telling that the inspirations for Jersey date from 1992 (Vinny) and 1988 (Working Girl), respectively, because everything in the show, the occasional Real Housewives quip aside, feels at least 20 years old.  (OK, 10 years for the recycled Legally Blonde bit where our heroine catches on to a clue nobody else does because of her intimate knowledge of hair products.)  Martina has the kind of populist, salt of the earth intuition that lets her size up guilt or innocence at a single glance (here’s a hint:  scholarship girls trying to help their families are innocent, arrogant intellectual professors are guilty), and puts her one step ahead of everyone else on the defense team at all times.  Her mother (the gifted stage actress Donna Murphy) may worry that she doesn’t have a boyfriend, but in her spare time, Martina can be counted on to talk her niece out of getting a tattoo and even get the girl’s deposit back.

The pilot for Made In Jersey makes USA’s legal vehicles like Suits and Fairly Legal look like… well, The Good Wife.  (In series, Kevin Falls will come aboard as showrunner.  He started as part of the Aaron Sorkin crew on Sports Night and The West Wing, but in recent years has been on projects like the confusing time-travel piece Journeyman and Franklin & Bash, so we’ll see if he makes any difference.)  Martina is only barely a lawyer at all–the big finale of the pilot is her questioning her first-ever witness, and of course doing it brilliantly–and the show feels more like a cop drama than one about attorneys.  Meanwhile, the charm of all the other characters staring at her open-mouthed because she’s so much smarter than they think she looks is going to wear off fast.

As Martina, the British Montgomery handles her cartoon accent well enough (she’s perfectly consistent with the Joisey accents of the American actors who play her family), but she doesn’t seem to have the kind of charisma and spirit that made their similar roles work for Tomei and Griffiths.  Hardly anyone in the supporting cast makes much of an impression, aside from Kyle McLachlan, who does what he can with the role of the crusty senior partner who alone recognizes how sharp that girl is. (In series, Kristoffer Polaha is joining the cast as another lawyer who one imagines will be a prospective romantic interest for Martina.)  Director Mark Waters, from movies like the Freaky Friday remake, Mean Girls and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, seems to have chosen to give the script some comic style, but there’s little zing in the pilot.

There isn’t much to be said in favor of Made In Jersey, which is the kind of show you can watch without knowing whether you’re looking at a rerun of an episode you’d already seen, but it is a better fit with the CBS Friday line-up than last season’s medical A Gifted Man.  Sandwiched between CSI NY and Blue Bloods, and facing fantasy adventures Grimm and Fringe on the other networks (plus a newsmagazine on ABC and the barely-watched Nikita on CW), it could please some of the older audience that watches the cop shows and hang on for a while.  Between the Jersey-based reality series on the air these days and Made in Jersey, though, residents of the Garden State may need to seek viewing consolation with Boardwalk Empire–at least those murderous thugs have some class.

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."