Written and produced by Paul William Davies (Scandal). Also produced by Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, The Catch) & Betsy Beers. Directed by Tom Verica (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal). For ABC Studios & Shondaland. Network draft 1/13/17. 57 pages.
Description: Brand new lawyers working for both the defense and the prosecution at the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Federal Court, aka “The Mother Court”, have to handle the most high profile and high stakes cases in the country – all as their personal lives inevitably intersect. Sandra, Allison, Seth, Jay, Kate and Leonard may not be friends but starting from now, whether they like it or not, they’ll be together almost 24/7, fighting for justice and fighting each others…
With Britne Oldford (American Horror Story, Skins US, Hunters), Lyndon Smith (Parenthood, 90210, Extant), Ben Rappaport (Mr Robot, The Good Wife, Younger), Susannah Flood (Chicago Fire), Wesam Keesh (Awkward), Regé-Jean Page (Roots, Waterloo Road), Anna Deavere Smith (Nurse Jackie, The West Wing, Blackish), Hope Davis (Wayward Pines, American Crime, In Treatment), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Daredevil, Chicago Hope), Ben Shenkman (Royal Pains, The Night Of, Angels in America)…
You’ll like it if you already like: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Law & Order…
Likely timeslot: in the TGIT, thursday at 9 after Grey’s Anatomy or at 10 once How To Get Away With Murder ends
A lot of you asked me on Twitter those past three months when the Black’s Law preview would come out. Shonda Rhimes’ pilots always get a lot of attention for very good reasons: after all, she’s the queen. The truth is, it’s one of the first scripts I read this year but I was so conflicted about it that I decided to give it time to let it sink in and not to write about it right away. Weeks have passed and I just couldn’t do it as my first impressions faded away. So I re-read it to make sure I was really thinking what I thought I was thinking. I also read Grey’s Anatomy pilot script for the first time. As you may know, Black’s Law is said to be in the vein of the medical drama when it started. It’s undeniable. Thought it was a good idea to compare. I was wrong. It got me even more disturbed. Now that the upfronts are coming in a few days, I have no choice but to do it. So here we are, friends. Black’s Law will certainly be picked-up to series by ABC anyway. The contrary would be quite a shocker. Not only because it’s Shonda Rhimes and ABC can’t afford to say no to her -which is not entirely true, they already did a few times- but because it’s simply one of the best pilot scripts they have in contention this year. No matter what.
Black’s Law doesn’t start with a crazy flashforward or a steamy love scene. It starts with a black screen and a dictionary entry saying “AB Initio: Latin from the first act, or meaning from the start” and then we’re back to black. Suddenly, it bursts into song. An energetic, propulsive one. And it stops when an alarm rings. Our heroine, Sandra, is waking up in the soft light of sunrise at 5.30. She’s wearing modest clothes in a not so modest apartment. Then she goes out: we’re in the vibrant and awesome city of New York and the song kicks in again. She takes the subway, she’s lost, she buys a banana and she finally arrives at her destination at 6.44: “The Mother Court”. It’s her first day. She wanted to be the first to arrive and she is. It’s a standard, modest but efficient start that tells us two things: this show is mostly about Sandra Black, as Grey’s Anatomy focused heavily on Meredith Grey early on -though there’s no voice over here- and also that the writer is not looking to replicate a Shondaland formula that may have been overused by now. Smart move? Only time will tell. That’s where I am conflicted the most: as a huge Shonda Rhimes fan, I was looking for something splashy and it turns out to be a regular legal drama, less soapier than expected but character-driven of course. It’s a good one, it seems. Not at a The Good Wife level, but still. Is it what ABC viewers want? Isn’t it a bit disappointing? Well. Now you know what to expect.
So, we’re exposed to three main cases in this first episode, which is a lot and doesn’t leave much space to the personal stories of our main characters, though we learn a thing or two about them through the way they handle the situations they’re in. It’s a big ensemble. There are 10 regulars. 6 young lawyers in their thirties. 3 of them are prosecutors. The other 3 are public defenders. They have 4 bosses in their fifties. We meet all of them in the first few pages in a classic Shonda Rhimes’ way that always works. You can already feel the competition mounting. That’s where the show is really smart. There’s not only a competition between the prosecutors or between the public defenders to take the best case or to make the best impression, but there’s also the promise of new battles every week between the prosecutors and the public defenders that are facing each others in court. In general, legal dramas are about the lawyers of one firm and they work together. Here, there is no firm and there is no working together. At least for now. Then love and friendships will complicate things. And we can’t wait to get there! There’s frustration when the pilot ends -without any cliffhanger by the way- but a good one. We can feel great things are coming up but we’re not there yet. In the era of Peak TV, let’s just hope people will give it a chance and a bit of patience.
Let me introduce you to the characters now. I’ll try to be quick. So Sandra is a sensible, fiercely intelligent and independent girl, who’s burdened by the decision to leave a Supreme Court clerkship that made her somewhat famous in the legal world. We learn in the pilot what really happened (don’t expect a big OMG moment) and what drove her to the law. She’s a cute, simple, fresh heroine that I’m already fond of. Allison is Sandra’s best friend. They go way back and now they live together. It’s impossible not to think of Meredith and Cristina. Let’s hope their friendship is as strong. Allison is a wealthy and generous woman and she’s in a relationship with Seth, a smart and reasonable but inexperienced recent law school grad. Of course, they become adversaries in their first case at “The Mother Court”, which causes a lot of drama. It’s not very surprising but perfectly handled. Seth works with Leonard, a cocky and case-stealing colleague, with a considerable swagger, and Kate who just wants to stay out of the drama, do her job and get the win. Of course, it won’t be that simple. Finally, Sandra and Allison are teamed up with Jay, a perhaps too big-hearted fellow. They don’t sound like clichés, they form a promising group but we can’t say they feel like characters we haven’t seen before either (is that even possible though?). Interesting point: Sandra doesn’t have any love interest yet. Which is kind of revolutionary in a Shondaland show!
I won’t describe all the bosses characters, they are not very developed yet but let’s just say they add some humor and more conflicts to the show. Tina, the tough, intimidating, no-nonsense SDNY court clerk, will probably be the audience’s favorite. She’s a crowd-pleaser. She’s funny. And she happens to be played by Anna Deavere Smith, who’s hilarious. Hope Davis is a great actress too. She plays Jill, the boss of all public defenders; she’s smart and savvy. The equivalent of Miranda Bailey in Grey’s in a way. Maybe you’re asking about the cases tackled -fast- in this pilot. The big one, that Sandra is on, is about a young man who’s accused of plotting the bombing of the Statue of Liberty. Yeah, big one I said. It made me think of a storyline from Homeland‘s recent sixth season. Black’s Law wants to be revelant, so of course they chose to deal with terrorism, THE subject matter these days. It’s done perfectly, with nuance and a bit of criticism against the police and against the law overall. It’s a morally commited show that seems to have a lot to say about the system and how much it can be unfair sometimes, especially when you’re up against the State. The other cases are about a fraud and a con man. Nothing very sexy. You know what it misses? Something fun, eccentric. Yeah but… we’re in the Federal Court so…not gonna happen.
Black’s Law is NOT a Shonda Rhimes by-the-book show. It’s less less soapy than Grey’s Anatomy, less sexy than Scandal, less twisty than How To Get Away With Murder, but it’s engaging and promising nonetheless in a more classic, regular way, with characters that you care about and some Shondaland trademarks. It doesn’t want to make viewers jump out of their seats at every corner, it’s more of a slow burn. It doesn’t ambition to be the “sensation of the year” but more like a sensation for years to come, a show that ABC will be able to rely on for the long haul. Let’s just hope the TGIT viewers will welcome Black’s Law as they’re supposed to: with kindness, goodwill and patience. This one’s a keeper.