As a general rule, television executives are not the most forward-thinking people on the planet. So when an idea connects with the public, they remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Thus, the success of FRIENDS begat a seemingly endless stream of series in which attractive 20-somethings exchanged banter at their local hangout, while the folks behind CSI opted to simply replicate themselves in new locations and call it a day.
Therefore, it was somewhat inevitable that when America fell for a brilliant but belligerent doctor with the bedside manner of an ill-tempered rattlesnake, TVland execs would take notice. But lest we think them completely incapable of coming up with something new, they fished about for a different profession and decided upon lawyers, giving not one but two HOUSE-like attorneys trial runs this season: From FOX we get Victor Garber in JUSTICE, while CBS has landed James Woods as SHARK.
The clichés hit fast and hard, beginning when defense attorney Sebastian Stark (Woods) discovers that the client he got acquitted of murdering his wife immediately went out and finished the job he’d started. Quicker than you can say “reversal of fortune,” Stark is pressured into heading up a special department of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office created by a mayor “sick of the poor going to jail for jaywalking while millionaires kill each other without missing a massage.”
Stark, of course, balks at the prospect. After all, he’s a defense attorney! “I eat prosecutors for breakfast,” he protests. But we already know how this scenario is going to play out. Think back to the days of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, when the hapless first mate would – when pressed to take part in some wacky scheme – insist, “You can’t make me, you can’t make me, you can’t make me!” only to have the next shot be the poor guy stuffed into a dress trying to woo an island priestess.
Sure enough, once the opening credits roll, we return to find Stark beginning his first day on the new job. Of course, he butts heads with his sexy former nemesis, D.A. Jessica Devlin (Jeri Ryan). And just as House has his staff of young docs to both teach and torture, Stark is surrounded by a group of eager beaver attorneys right out of central casting. And just in case we need help picking out their stereotypical traits, Stark literally does it for us. Ambitious guy from a long line of attorneys? Check. Pretty gal who is “smart, passionate [and] lets emotion cloud her judgement?” Check. Sassy black chick with major authority issues? Check!
All that’s left now is to bring on the case… and of course, it’s a doozy. Heck, we established right there at the beginning that this crew would only be handling high-profile cases! In the pilot, it’s a Britneyesque pop tart accused of killing the dancer she was fooling around with. (Wishful thinking on the part of everyone ever made to suffer through a K-Fed performance?)
The biggest surprise? The fact that all of these cliches and stereotypes somehow come together to form one of the most entertaining shows of the new season, due in no small part to the unbeatable charisma of Woods. Like House, Stark is a man who says and does the things we can only dream of. And like the attorney he plays, Woods is surrounded by a more than capable group of players, and his banter with Ryan’s Devlin proves they have chemistry to spare.
Despite being less flashy than lead-in CSI, SHARK should have no trouble both appealing and holding on to that show’s core audience. Our verdict? Woods’ Emmy-worthy performance gives SHARK the teeth it needs to avoid being all bark and no bite.