Fox's 'Against the Law' has plenty of style but needs a reality check


September 21, 1990|By MICHAEL HILL

You've got an appealing star in Michael O'Keefe. A good character in brash, young, successful attorney Simon MacHeath. A nice setting in Boston. A pretty good slate of supporting characters.

So why do you have to start off the first episode of the new Fox show "Against the Law" with a scene of such adolescent appeal that even Steve Bochco wouldn't do it?

Yes, when we first meet MacHeath, he is waving a zucchini around a courtroom, risking the contempt of a glowering judge, as he tries to demonstrate to a jury exactly how a sexual device severely injured his client.

This, one presumes, is supposed to get the attention of that young audience Fox is going for. It also might get the attention of more than a few viewers' thumbs as they move about the remote control in search of a better show.

Actually "Against the Law," which starts Sunday night at 9:30 on Channel 45 (WBFF), is a better show than that, though it demonstrates similar flaws throughout its 90-minute premiere.

O'Keefe brings energy to MacHeath, another take on the burned-out lawyer of "Shannon's Deal." In this case, MacHeath had been a rising star in the high-society firm of his father-in-law, played by Fritz Weaver, but the marriage and the partnership both hit stormy weather.

Now he's doing fine with his own independent operation, attracting all sorts of cases with his high-profile tactics that often draw disfavor from the bench. But he clearly still yearns to take his padded-shoulders suits and wide ties and beat the Brooks Brothers boys at their own game.

He gets the chance Sunday in a case he accepts from the public defender's office involving a murder in a psychology clinic and the dubious confession of a patient. It's actually not a bad case, but it's depicted in such a way as to make "Perry Mason" look like a documentary.

Without going into the details of the many ways "Against the Law" strays from reality, suffice it to say that lawyers know never to ask a question in court unless they already know the answer. MacHeath is shown heading into the courtroom not even knowing whether or not his client will cooperate with him, not to mention what witnesses he is going to call, much less how they might answer his questions.

"Against the Law" has the raw ingredients of a good series. As played by O'Keefe, MacHeath is an interesting, flawed character, struggling to define success on his own terms. But if the show doesn't anchor itself in reality a bit more, it threatens to float away on a sea of style.

"Against the Law"

** A young lawyer, once a rising star, now invites the contempt of judges and his former colleagues with his aggressive tactics.

CAST: Michael O'Keefe, Fritz Weaver

TIME: This Sunday 9:30 p.m., subsequent Sundays at 10 p.m.

CHANNEL: Fox Channel 45 (WBFF)

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