20 December 2002 | Victor Field
This is no "Ally McBeal." Which is no bad thing, but there's a reason Ally lasted five years and this didn't.
Since "NYPD Blue" premiered, a lot of new shows from Steven Bochco Productions have come and gone (from "Public Morals," Bochco's ill-advised foray into the world of sitcoms, to the medical drama "City of Angels" - one of the few Steven Bochco series not as yet shown in Britain). "Philly" wasn't the one to break his losing streak, but this legal drama still deserves a bit better than it's been getting ;at the time of writing it's airing on Channel 4 in the UK late at night in single or double-bills over the Christmas period. Can you say "filler"? Come on - it's no classic, but it's not "Mortal Kombat: Conquest" either.
A vehicle for Kim Delaney, the late Bobby Simone's equally late girlfriend is reincarnated as Kathleen Maguire, a Philadelphia lawyer and divorced mother of one (her ex happens to be a DA, with all that implies). She has trouble with the circuit judges she argues her cases in front of and is given to wearing suspiciously short skirts (Bochco always did have a weakness for strikingly attractive legal reps on his shows), but fortunately the resemblance to Ally McBeal ends there; her legal life is loaded with difficulty from the first episode onwards, in which her load is doubled when her partner [Joanna Cassidy, last seen as Brenda's mother on "Six Feet Under"] has a breakdown in court and winds up in psychiatric care... like I said, this ain't no Ally.
Kathleen's characterised as dedicated and idealistic, but her rival lawyers aren't set up as the enemy - they're all people trying to do a job. Her new partner (Tom Everett Scott) is set up as looser than she is, but just as set on doing a good job. Plus the series is set in one of America's less exposed cities... so far so competent. And that's the show's problem - there's nothing really WRONG with it; the writing doesn't stink, the acting's decent (especially Rick Hoffman as one of the Commonwealth's lawyers), the stories hold the attention, the different setting is a change, the kid isn't too annoying, and Mike Post rises to the occasion yet again in terms of themes. But like "Brooklyn South," "Philly" lacks that extra something that could put it over the top - although at least the characters here are slightly less anonymous.
If it didn't carry the legend "Executive Producer: Steven Bochco," this show might have gotten a chance to show its legs were as good as Kim Delaney's. But in any event, it's a decent time-passer; more "Equal Justice" than "Murder One," but none the worse for that.