Friday, 8 April 2011

The Defenders PREVIEW

Jerry O'Connell, Tanya Fischer, Jim Belushi, and Jurnee Smollett. Pics: Robert Voets/Joseph Cultice/CBS
Rating ★★★½

FX, from Friday, 8 April, 10pm

Following Castle and Bored to Death, The Defenders continues the current vogue for light-hearted crime series.

Starring James Belushi and Jerry O'Connell as a couple of ne'er-do-well Vegas lawyers, it's a comedy-drama based on a 50-year-old CBS series that was all courtroom drama, and no comedy.

Tanya Fischer as the receptionist, Sophie
O'Connell is the lothario lawyer Pete Kaczmarek, while Belushi really holds the show together as Nick Morelli, who is so cut up about his marriage breakdown that he does what any sharp lawyer would do and has his wife followed. This leads to an amusingly ironic scene in which his wife, Jessica (Gillian Vigman), instantly sees through all the lies of the shrewd attorney.

Natalie Zea as the acid-tongued assistant DA
The running gag is that despite their chaotic private lives, the pair manage to do a good job defending their clients. The opening case sees them defending Dan, accused of murdering one member of a foursome of beefy guys that was beating his brother to a pulp.

In a corny twist, it is the duo's new employee – Lisa (Jurnee Smollett), who's put herself through law school by lap-dancing and is called the 'stripper' by the assistant DA – who ends up cracking the case by uncovering a new witness.

The acid-tongued assistant DA, Meredith, is played by Natalie Zea, moonlighting from her job with Timothy Olyphant on Justified. 'You really don't like me much,' she says to legal adversary Pete, as they both undress in a hotel room.

Belushi is the show's heart and soul
The opening story is entertaining, with Nick cleverly riling the judge into a ruling that plays into their client's hands. And it is Belushi, fleshy-faced, vulnerable and likeable, who is most watchable and gives the show some soul.

Vegas being Vegas, there is potential for some fruity stories here, and we glimpse early on in Pete and Nick's reception the newlyweds needing next-day annulments, the porn stars and other chancers wanting legal assistance. Plus, there are guest stars such as Dan Aykroyd as a judge to come.

There's even a cameo in episode one by crooner Frank Sinatra Jr. So, it's an easy-going show set in a town that doesn't take itself seriously. If you're after some easy laughs in these straitened times, The Defenders is certainly worth a throw of the dice.