First off, it should be said that it’s great to have Maura Tierney back on television. Tierney dropped out of NBC’s Parenthood last year to focus on fighting an aggressive form of breast cancer—Lauren Graham was her replacement—and she remains an immensely appealing presence, specializing in high-strung characters who possess a stinging wit. Unfortunately, Tierney hasn’t found a role since NewsRadio that’s equal to her talent, having been stranded for a decade—a decade!—on ER during a long stretch of mediocrity, and turning up for bit movie parts and a stretch on Rescue Me during its downslope, too. It’s been 11 years since NewsRadio ended, and Tierney is due for a proper showcase.
Sad to report, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced legal procedural The Whole Truth is not that showcase. Yes, it casts Tierney—herself a last-minute replacement for Joely Richardson, who departed to spend more time with her family—as a wound-up prosecutor who’s quick with an acerbic one-liner. But she’s stuck in a show that’s not only painfully derivative—a time-overlapping Raising The Bar, essentially, or a Law And Order showing both sides of “law”—but doesn’t supply her or her veteran co-star, Rob Morrow, with the quality banter they deserve. In a nutshell: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Like the McDLT of legal shows, The Whole Truth asks the viewer to examine a case from both the prosecution and defense sides, and put them together in a delicious sandwich of justice. On the prosecution side: Kathryn (Tierney), Deputy Bureau Chief of the New York State D.A.’s office, a woman whose narrow devotion to the law makes her excellent as an attorney, but not so great in other areas of her life. On the defense side: Jimmy (Morrow), a hotshot criminal defense attorney who listens to The Ramones at his office and projects an air of confidence and charisma that eludes Kathryn. Kathryn and Jimmy are fierce competitors, meeting often to barter over cases and trade taunts, and of course they share the inevitable underlying sexual tension, too. (They would get together in the third season or so, in an imaginary world where the show would last that long.)
So far, the first two episodes have cold opens a la House or Six Feet Under where people we don’t know are brought into the case. In the pilot, a seemingly normal family has their breakfast interrupted by police, who arrest the father, a high-school history teacher, for the murder of a 17-year-old Latina student. For Kathryn, it’s an open-and-shut case: the teacher had been obsessed with victim, calling her and involving himself in all her extracurricular activities, and his skin cells and saliva had been found on her breasts. She also has possible evidence that he hated Latinos, which would make it a possible hate crime. But not so fast! Jimmy feels the forensics are weak, and he’s got evidence of other young men with motivation to commit the murder, plus word that she was not the virginal Catholic girl her parents purported her to be.
After The Whole Truth fills in one side of the case, it doubles back in time and does the same for the other, making sure that both prosecution and defense get roughly equal treatment. But Rashomon, this ain’t. One episode into its run, the show seems overcommitted to a rigid template that doesn’t enliven the at-best passable legal mysteries at its core. And worse still, it can’t allow for any ambiguity about the real truth of the matter. It’s not enough for the jury to reach its verdict; we also have a postscript to let us know definitively whether the verdict was right or not. All that spoon-feeding is enough to make you gag.
• Forgot to mention there are supporting players on both sides. So there, I mentioned it.
• Morrow’s Jimmy is tagged as the “cool” boss to Tierney’s tightwad. But I’d rather work for the tightwad than the dude was hypes up the room with exhortations like, “Rock and roll, people!”
• The part from my notes when I nodded off briefly: “dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd.”