‘The Defenders’ (CBS – Wednesday, 10:00 p.m.)

Two colorful Las Vegas defense attorneys who go all-in when it comes to representing their clients. Nick and Pete are the local go-to guys with an eclectic client list who are still looking to hit their own jackpot. Leading the law firm of Morelli & Kaczmarek are Nick Morelli, an earnest, hard-charging attorney who represents his clients to the best of his ability, no matter how big or small the case; and his partner, Pete Kaczmarek, whose passion for the law is matched only by his love of fast cars, beautiful women and expensive clothes. Joining them in their growing law practice is new associate Lisa Tyler, an enthusiastic young attorney looking to put her exotic dancing days behind her; and their young assistant, Zoe Waters, a spunky and sweet ingénue who is eager to please her bosses. While Lady Luck shines on their legal careers, the partners have their hands full when it comes to their personal lives. With Pete busy cruising the Vegas Strip for his latest romantic conquest, Nick is focused on repairing a fractured marriage to his estranged wife and remaining present in the life of their young son. No matter the offense, Nick and Pete aim to prove that when the stakes are high, they’re willing to bet the house on the clients they defend in Sin City. – CBS

The Preview (originally posted on 9/17/2010)

Shawn: I have to keep reminding myself that I am sick of legal procedurals and why but then I get dragged right back in by shows like The Defenders starring Jim Belushi (According to Jim) and Jerry O’Connell (Sliders) who star as a couple of working-stiff lawyers here in my city, Las Vegas. Here’s the thing, I’m not going to be watching this show because I expect it be some fantastic weekly legal thriller, on the contrary, I expect that part of the show to be clichéd as every other legal show. No, I’m watching because I like Belushi and O’Connell and after seeing the trailers and interviews associated with this show, I think I like these characters. Again, how relatable the characters are can make or break a series. Truthfully, this show doesn’t have to be about lawyers, it could have been about cops, plumbers, copier salesmen, the Mexicans on The Strip shoving the cards in your four-year old’s face offering hookers direct to you hotel room… whatever. It doesn’t matter because this is a buddy-[insert profession here] show and nothing more and this could work with Belushi as the comedian and O’Connell as the straight man. I think I’ll need to watch the first few episodes to get a handle on whether this show is worth hanging on to, but I will say this: if they start that crap like they do on CSI of randomly mentioning streets and neighborhoods in Las Vegas without any actual resemblance to where these landmarks truly are geographically-speaking, I will shut it off.

The Review:

8 out of 10

Congratulations, CBS! You’ve given me a legal procedural that actually enjoyed and only winced at a couple of times while watching.

The Defenders works for the reason I thought it would: Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell and it’s not just the fact that they were cast in the roles of Nick Morelli and Pete Kaczmarek, but that the characters themselves were apparently written for these two.  And for the record, I don’t care what anyone says, even though According to Jim was awful and lasted far too many seasons, Jim Belushi is a very good actor.

Our protagonists are a couple of working-class lawyers based on the real life Las Vegas attorneys, Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese. I appreciate this on a couple of levels.

First, unlike what most legal procedurals portray, most attorneys are not the kind of lawyers you see on Boston Legal or L.A. Law. Most attorneys are working-class folks who work long hours and although make a good living aren’t Rockefeller rich by any stretch of the imagination. Nick’s a recently separated father who cares as much about getting to his little boy’s little league game and reading to him before he goes to bed as he does about representing his clients. Kascmarek is a bit more Hollywood, but he’s still very believable as Morelli’s loyal right-hand partner who’s fiercely dedicated to his clients and to doing the right thing. So the realism factor on that is pretty refreshing.

The other thing that I like is that, again, unlike most legal procedurals, this one isn’t composed of an ensemble cast at a big firm or in a D.A.’s office. One of my pet-peeves with legal procedurals is that there are just too many characters and they take away from the actual cases and become too much of the story themselves. Legal shows are supposed to be just that… dramas about law, not soap operas. Too many characters on a show tends to invariably water down the cases and make them clichéd and predictable. The Defenders is primarily about our two main characters, Nick and Pete, and to an extent their new associate, Lisa Walters (Jurnee Smollet, Friday Night Lights)… that’s it. That small core group of characters allows the audience to focus on the compelling cases and the character development without losing anything in either department. And after two episodes this formula is working very well. I love these guys.

These stories are very compelling and very topical and unlike the laziness associated with Law & Order’s “ripped from the headlines” nonsense, The Defenders deal with issues as opposed to specific news headlines and what’s even more impressive is that they are actually addressing issues specific to Las Vegas. The prime example of this is in the second episode, Nevada v. Carter, where they focus on the very well-known issue in Clark County of the problem in the Public Defender’s Office having massive, overflowing caseloads that they can’t handle because of the limited number of often inexperienced attorneys and it is causing serious miscarriages of justice. It really impressed me that in the second episode they addressed this very hot and important issue.

The only aspects that I don’t like about The Defenders are the nit-picky things that bug me about all legal shows (like not being able to get the law or court procedure correct sometimes) and shows that take place in Las Vegas (that I noted in the preview), but the show is so good that I’m just going to let them slide and not even mention specifics.

Watch full epsiodes of The Defenders, here.

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