The Firm debuts tonight on NBC at 9 p.m. Eastern with a two-hour premiere before moving to its regular time slot of Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern this Thursday.
At the recent Television Critics Association press tour session for the show, The Firm producer Lukas Reiter (who developed the show for television) said that the reason main character Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas)—who ended the book and film and precede the series hiding out from the mob in the Caribbean—is one again practicing law in the United States under his own name is because that’s just so Mitch McDeere. He’s the kind of guy who scoffs at the bad guys who might still want to shoot him—and his wife and daughter—in the face. He’s the kind of guy who wants to know justice has been done and wants to know that that justice has “Attained By Mitch McDeere” branded on its ass. He’s the kind of guy who sees a rampaging bear and runs toward that bear, dragging his wife and daughter along behind him all the way. “It’ll be all right, guys!” he yells, as the bear’s teeth sink into his child’s leg. “I’m motherfuckin’ Mitch McDeere!”
Now, logic flaws are a big problem with The Firm—to the point where that panel was often taken up by reporters asking Reiter about tiny little details and to the point where NBC actually had someone research just how many pay phones can be found in the Washington D.C. area adjacent to the reflecting pool on the National Mall—but they’re not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that the project is really boring. Extremely boring. Almost unbelievably boring.
The film isn’t great or anything, but it’s reasonably propulsive, with a great, driving score and some really fun performances in the supporting cast. The TV series, at least in the needlessly extended pilot, is like someone took a boring, by the book serialized drama and then grafted the dullest legal drama you’ll ever see right on top of it. Everybody in the cast wanders around like they’ve been heavily sedated on Valium. In particular, Molly Parker—as Mitch’s wife Abby—seems to be playing Abby as though she’s self-medicating whatever anxiety she feels about the mob coming after her family. She’ll wander through a scene, blithely nattering away about exposition or how she teaches fifth graders or something, and she seems like she’s just wiling away the hours until the bear rips off her daughter’s leg.
All of the beats here? You’ll be able to see them coming from about five miles away, but you won’t be able to stop yourself from sliding into them in sloooooooow motion. The pilot opens with Mitch racing around Washington, just ahead of some men who are trying to kill him, before making the aforementioned pay phone call and then bursting into a motel room where another man is waiting for him. Will that mysterious man pop up in an unexpected place later in the episode? Will the men chasing Mitch catch up to him? Do you have to ask?
The problem is that this opening sequence is the one thing that’s good about the episode. It’s reasonably exciting and suspenseful, and if everything had continued from here, filling in the exposition on the fly, that might have been some reasonably diverting television. Instead, we immediately bring up a title that says “Six weeks ago,” and the audience—which has seen Lost and its time-hopping progeny—groans, at the thought of more flashbacks and flash-forwards, stuck into place willy-nilly, solely to make it so the writers don’t have to spice up the action in the past, because the future is full of pointless foot chases. The pilot flashes back to Mitch, trying to make it with his own small law firm, with the support of his wife and kid, as well as his ex-con brother, Ray (Callum Keith Rennie, who seems ready to brawl with anyone at any given moment), and his brother’s girlfriend, Tammy (Juliette Lewis). If you’ve seen the original film or read the book, you may recognize these characters’ names. Why do they follow Mitch on his suicidal mission back to the United States, where the mob wants all of them dead? Because the show needs more characters; that’s why.
Mitch’s case involves a young man who appears to have stabbed another young man in a fight, and the questions of the case are mostly boring ones of “When do you try someone as an adult, especially if the crime is especially heinous?” and “What price is a child’s life when they’ve done something evil?” Mitch, of course, has answers for these questions, and the legal stuff isn’t bad when he’s backed into corners that he can’t quite worm his way out of, when he’s forced to do stuff that goes against his own ethical code because he has to be a good lawyer. But the show never really does anything with these questions, nor does it do anything with a potential murder plot that develops as the pilot goes on. And it’s not like it didn’t have room to do so! There were plenty of scenes of, say, the kid’s birthday party that are just boilerplate scenes that didn’t really add anything. Instead, we get a legal story climax that doesn’t involve Mitch in any way, as he listens to a tertiary supporting character hand down a statement that only vaguely affects him. Josh Lucas tries to look pained. It doesn’t really work.
Naturally, the mob still lurks out there, and Mitch is quickly enticed by offers from a new shadowy law firm—this one apparently run by everybody’s favorite Cylon Tricia Helfer—which has some secrets of its own. Will the firm’s interest in Mitch prove to have something more sinister behind it? Did the show just need Mitch to get involved with a firm so it could be called The Firm? Sadly, the answer to both of these is “Yes, kind of,” and even though we know Mitch is going to get back into a position where men are chasing him around Washington—it’s right there in the opening—there’s no suspense to any of this. It’s like the show wants to be a straightforward copy of the movie, only told over a full season, but it also wants to be a sequel to the movie. Thus, it becomes a story about people who experience nearly exactly the same collection of events, don’t really seem all that concerned about it, and then also take on a case of the week because they’ve figured out they live in a TV show.
It’s hard to imagine who’s in the audience NBC imagines wants to watch The Firm. Every time there’s an intriguing idea or two, it’s expressed in the most banal way possible. (Example: Mitch is meeting and greeting with the new shadowy law firm, and when one of the partners there accuses him of defending poor criminals, he laughs it off and says they both defend criminals—his just aren’t billionaires who can get away with not being charged with crimes—in the most bored way possible, as though Lucas absolutely couldn’t wait to go see what cupcakes were at craft services.) The Firm—at least in pilot form—doesn’t bother to justify its existence, and what is there is a long, depressing slog of a show. The world doesn’t need another by-the-numbers legal procedural, and it doesn’t need another by-the-numbers serialized show where menace slowly, slowly accumulates before exploding in action movie cliché. And it most certainly doesn’t need a blend of the two, particularly one this boring and this bad.