Underdog or hot dog 'Against the Law' deserves a few pats

September 21, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Against The Law" is another after-the-fall drama about a lawyer.

Like Jack Shannon, of "Shannon's Deal," and Rosie O'Neill, of "The Trials of Rose O'Neill," Simon MacHeath (Michael O'Keefe) is a former corporate attorney who had it all, lost or gave it away and is now trying to lead a decent life of some public service instead of only "the good life" of private gain.

In the Fox pilot, which airs at 9:30 Sunday night on WBFF-TV (Channel 45), MacHeath is divorced, but he and his ex-wife still feel some sparks. It's just that her father, the head of an old-money law firm, always seems to come between them.

It was his father-in-law's law firm that MacHeath left after the divorce.It is his father-in-law's law firm he comes up against in one of his cases in the pilot.

Their relationship is defined by an exchange in a hallway outside the courtroom.

"You went to the wrong school," MacHeath's former father-in-law says. "You grew up on the wrong side of town. You divorced the wrong man's daughter. Then, there's your character. I really think, Simon, the deck is stacked against you."

That blue-collar, underdog, outsider image is intended to be part of MacHeath's appeal. The rest is supposed to come from his sense of style. He's a showboat, a daring performer in the courtroom, a man who lives life with a certain swagger. Think of young Joe Namath as a lawyer.

That's a complicated formula -- after-the-fall wounded-hero, underdog and hot dog all rolled into one guy.

Sunday night, MacHeath defends an innocent boy charged with murder, a Mafia wife wanting a divorce and a man whose genitals were injured by a defective suction device.

He does the murder case for free. He uses a zucchini in court to win the suction case. And the mobster and his wife get back together, thanks in part to MacHeath. As for his style, when the mobster has a giant fish thrown through MacHeath's window as a threat, MacHeath proceeds to slice it up and cook it for dinner.

Do the producers manage to make it all believeable? Do they pull it off?

Almost. As a hot dog, MacHeath's more often likable than obnoxious. As an underdog, he's never self-pitying. It's close enough anyway to give MacHeath a couple of more looks.

P.S. I think he and Rosie O'Neill would be a great couple.

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