David E.Kelley's penchant for creating intelligent,edgy and twist-filled television probably had its most unadulterated,unfiltered network effort with this ABC offering,which ran for almost eight whole seasons.
The law firm of Donnell,Young and Frutt is a smallish firm that has built its rep on its smart,savage defense of clients of all stripe. The firm looks like this: Bobby Donnell(Dylan McDermot),the alpha male of the group,is also somewhat of a sex magnet,having affected relationships with both the icy DA(Lara Flynn Boyle)and his associate Lindsay Dole(Kelli Williams,also emitting cool sex appeal),among others. Eugene Young(Steve Harris)plows through his work as soldierly as possible,regardless of how much his moral standards(and this could really apply to about all of the litigators for this firm)take a beating from the work they are charged with. Jimmy Berdelli(Michael Badalucco)is a hard-working schlep who finds himself in as much deep dutch as the clients he covers. Eleanor Frutt(Camryn Manheim)is a very skilled and smart lawyer who has a mouth for a liability. Black,female lawyer Rebecca Washington(Lisa Gay Williams)seems to be an ostensible token here,as does perky but almost ill-fitted jail-bait secretary Lucy Hatcher(MArla Sokoloff).
As the show ran on,it seemed like the clients they took on became(I suppose inevitably)creepier,sicker and slimier. Some examples: the exasperated,accused wife killer Scott Wallace(Bruce DAvison), the philandering doctor who is(as it turns out)wrongly accused of killing--specifically:decapitating--his mistress,the meek nun-killer Geroge Vogelman(Michael Monks);the bug-fetishist dentist(Henry Winkler),Joey Heric(John Larroquette),the glib,homosexual serial killer;the snarling gangster Jackie Cahill(Doug Hutchson),who manages to kill off a semi-regular from prison;and scary,creepy William Hinks(Michael Emerson),whose guilt of murdering a string of single women is never in doubt,yet he's still effectively defended by the firm. And that's naming probably only a sample. Enough moral ambiguity is exploited here,and it proves effective,if albeit at the expense of the likability or respectability of the lawyers on BOTH sides.
And that's where my summary line comes from:as I watched this show for the most part loyally over most of its run,I found myself going from having any particular affinity,liking or respect slowly eroding as each character would stare at situations that SHOULD have easier answers,still take on the cases,THEN would stew over the consequences when what they feared would go wrong in fact DOES happen. Eventually,I found myself almost glad that each of these lawyers would find themselves being bit in the behind by the exact cases that they took despite the obvious dangers,whether abstractly or tangibly,that would come of them. Pretty much by the end,when they added on James Spader as the delightfully cunning and morally slippery(but refreshingly honest with himself)defense attorney Alan Shore,who now thrives wonderfully on "Boston Legal",the only likable characters to me was probably the secretary,Shore and the occasional eccentric that would end up being defended by the firm(a man who'd mentally snapped and began to think of himself as Superman/Clark Kent is one that comes to mind).
I suppose any television program who is willing to sacrifice their main characters' personas and likability(however easy or difficult that is),says something pretty good about the show itself. As much as this(or really,ANY Kelley t.v. show)program would flabbergast me from time to time,it never bored me and had me watching from beginning to end. I see this as the kind of show that "L.A.Law"strove to be,sometimes accomplished,but rarely stayed at. You might walk away disgusted or mad at this show,but it's not likely you'll come away forgetting it,either.