I'm a big fan of characters, especially female characters, in the midst of midlife crises. Few things feel as ripe for comedy and pathos as a contemporary woman questioning her life choices and our bizarre culture while facing the inevitably gritty sands of time piling up around her pedicure-neglected toes. Maybe I'm just projecting, but it works for me, a middle-aged woman who bumps up against those sandy piles of grit more and more each day.
So I know what I'm talking about when I say Kathy Bates aces this genre. From the "Towanda" shouting Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes to the subversive Bettina in Six Feet Under, Kathy Bates always inspires as a middle-aged actress who plays middle-aged characters, all of whom are coming to terms with what it means to survive a youth-obsessed, appearance-judging patriarchy. Kicking ass with a fierce, quirky tenderness, that's what Kathy Bates does best.
So it's not surprising that her new television show, Harry's Law, just might be a winner. Producer/writer David E. Kelley is serving up the type of savvy scripts that rocked Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and L.A. Law, and tailoring them to Kathy Bates' cutting delivery and distinctive power. He has written a lead character, Harriet Korn, who was a corporate attorney until a series of mishaps lead her to a new practice in a rundown neighborhood. The result, in Kathy Bates' hands, is an intriguing dramedy that feels both familiar and progressive.
Much like its predecessor, Ally McBeal, Harry’s Law has a touch of ridiculousness to it. There are several instances of physical comedy that immediately transported me back to the 90s. Harry’s law firm also doubles as a shoe store. Despite having no criminal experience, Harry is able to work miracle after miracle. However, Kathy Bates, manages to bring a seriousness and realness to her character, even when she is wielding a gun. That, I think, is the charm and essence of this show. As one character noted, Harry is a “hot shot corporate attorney that suddenly goes cartoon happy.” That is a very fair description of the show, but only scratches the surface.
There are a lot of Benevolent White People helping out Saintly Black People With Problems. There's even a defense of China's one-child policy in the name of helping a nerd score with a hot chick. But for a comedy-drama to be not simply situationally aware of Cincinnati's race and class issues but to base itself in them is almost refreshingly earnest, no matter how odd and blunt the execution.
Boston Legal worked brilliantly with a similar mix of improbable cases, heavy-handed preachy closing arguments and quirky actors (William Shatner, James Spader and Candice Bergen) who could deliver tart retorts with aplomb, so I'm looking forward to watching Harry's Law unfold. I liked the first episode, but it of course was laden with exposition, so I'll give the show a few episodes to hit its stride. I admit to having a big ol' bias in favor of Kathy Bates, but the fact that we get to see her leading a television show is a mark of a just system in my book.
Harry's Law airs on NBC, Monday nights at 10 pm EST starting January 17th. Have you seen the premiere yet, or are you interested enough to watch? Are you a Kathy Bates fan? What say ye? Weigh in with your verdict in the comments.
Contributing Editor Deb Rox blogs at Deb on the Rocks, lives on the East Coast and tries to avoid Tweeting spoilers from @debontherocks. Really, she tries.
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