There is a worthwhile, flighty summer show somewhere within Franklin & Bash. For two seasons, it has lumbered on through the TNT summer schedule, perpetually endorsing and championing the lazy sexism and leering gaze of its protagonists, Jared Franklin and Peter Bash, working for the old lothario name partner played by Malcolm McDowell. But something keeps me coming back, wanting to dive in and pick this horrific mess of show apart and break it down for spare parts. If you need to catch up on The Good Wife, or there’s a marathon of Law & Order reruns on another network (though this is TNT, so what other basic cable channel would you be watching for that?), then Franklin & Bash is not the summer entertainment you’re looking for. But for those people who are all caught up on other shows, and enjoy some unexpectedly engrossing courtroom banter—completely unrealistic, but not egregiously so—this is a summer diversion worth dropping in on when viewing options wear thin during a thunderstorm.
Breckin Meyer has to be the luckiest guy on this show, because both lead characters are incorrigible smarmy assholes, but Jared Franklin is the nebbish one, so in comparison to Mark-Paul Gosselaar, he can get away with almost anything and not come off as the worst guy ever. Zack Morris, on the other hand, must actively rein in that insufferable air of superiority. When he goes to hit on an Australian kinesiologist fishing on the beach, he does push-ups beforehand. They drink with reckless abandon, seem to suffer from separation anxiety, and project the heteronormative bachelor lifestyle, where kicking back with beer, buds, and babes is the ultimate aspiration.
Heather Locklear is like a dominant middle relief pitcher. Shows bring her in when they need a quick jolt in the arm, something to hold over for a few solid innings until the closer can take over. The last role I strongly remember her from was Scrubs, when she had a two-episode arc at the beginning of the second season, and it invigorated the show for the rest of the year. She’s in the main cast for this season, seemingly the eye candy star power to take over from the loveable grandpa with vigor that McDowell provides. She’s perpetually in shape, she's domineering, and she forces change on Peter and Jared. This is all standard pabulum, and the way she exerts power over Damien—Reed Diamond, who really got to show he’s better than this material in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing—shows how tacky Franklin & Bash is still willing to be in order to constantly add sex to the proceedings.
But the only truly good thing about Franklin & Bash is that once the two go into a courtroom—seriously, whenever the show shifts into a trial scene run by the two amigos—all of the annoying characterization and superfluous law firm soap opera plotting goes away. The best thing this show has going for it can be summed up at the end of the first hour of tonight’s premiere—when Franklin attempts and fails to perform magic, but Bash picks up the slack with a cutesy handkerchief trick, and the pair take a bow as the courtroom applauds. They are showmen, first and foremost, and the show positions them in such a way that they play by the rules of corporate law just enough not to get fired, but stick up for the little guy enough to wear that rebellious badge of honor. They perform whimsical escape acts, rescuing victory from the jaws of defeat, and maintaining just enough credibility outside the big, bad, corporate environment to make rooting for them not an entirely fruitless endeavor.
It’s a pity then that the show takes place mostly outside of a courtroom, gathering evidence, fighting through law firm bureaucracy, and characters that take away from the case of the week. Despite Marc Maron not understanding an XBOX One joke and being a curmudgeonly bastard toward him, Kumail Nanjiani is having a great 2013. He was hilarious on The Jeselnik Offensive, at Just For Laughs in Chicago last week, and his first special airs on Comedy Central this Saturday. Nanjiani is consistently the funniest character on Franklin & Bash, though a comedian fully in “cashing a paycheck” mode here, and he’s also the most superfluous character. Everyone else does something at least tangentially related to a legal case in these first two episodes except for Pindar, who instead accidentally burns down the guys’ bachelor pad, spurring the other shakeup: moving to a beachfront property owned by Stanton. He gets some of the best one-liners, but he’s there to contrast just how effortlessly cool Franklin and Bash are at all times.
Speaking of picking up a paycheck, Malcolm McDowell gets little to do but strut around exuding machismo and playing the grizzled, loveable mascot of the firm. He turns over all control to Heather Locklear’s character, so he’s sidelined to marrying a Ukrainian girl to get her citizenship because he saw a man jump off a waterfall to his death while on vacation. Stanton doesn’t need character back-story or outside motivation—what he needs to be is a strong central figure at the firm. But either McDowell is slowly checking out of the role—and by slowly I mean that it’s taken two whole seasons of downhill progress to reach this point—or the show is
And yet the legal cases are intriguing enough to hold my attention. The premiere, with Adam Goldberg as twin magicians, is funny for the Prestige connection, for Goldberg’s droll performance, and for Meyer’s childlike devotion to magic. But the second episode, with a case that centers on Veteran’s Affairs corruption that declares a veteran dead in order to deprive him of benefits and foreclose on his home to sell it cheaply at auction to a realtor, really turns the screws. Franklin and Bash have to work to appease a sympathetic client, and jump through several unexpected legal hoops in order to reach an eminently watchable scene, when Bash questions the legally dead defendant in the guise of a John Doe. That direct examination is the only great scene I can recall on this show, and something that feels more approachable.
So Franklin & Bash is a legal dramedy that has found a way to make all of the legally implausible courtroom drama a delightful pageant, but every time it steps out of that setting, the energy drops, and the douchebag factor increases exponentially, and superfluous characters wander in with no ties to this show’s procedural center. The law firm, how the leadership evolves, the goings on within the corporate structure—none of that should matter as much in light of two clever guys pulling a Perry Mason every week and figuring out some illogical and impossible way to shake up a trial to tip it in their favor. I can’t honestly say that I would recommend Franklin & Bash to anyone, but I also can’t deny that still, against my better judgment, I can ignore the obvious glaring problems to watch breezy, entertaining trial scenes.
- “Do you know what spontaneous combustion means?” “Latin for ‘Pinder did it.’”
- “You went to college?” “Best decade of my life.” Oh Mark-Paul, you’re still living like you’re in college, how wonderful.
- “I’m going to find my levator scapular and sever it later tonight.” Kumail Nanjiani is killing it this year.
- “Forget it. Swear him in. You guys are exhausting.” That line alone earned the bump up from a D+.