Johnson raises the bar in engaging `Just Legal'

Fall TV: Preview

September 19, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,sun television critic

Seedy, sour and looking for any excuse to sit at a bar and drink instead of practicing law -- that's Grant Cooper, the latest incarnation of Don Johnson (Miami Vice and Nash Bridges) in Just Legal, a new drama from producer Jerry Bruckheimer that premieres tonight on the WB network.

Think Paul Newman in the feature film The Verdict. But instead of Boston, this weekly series is set in a noir-ish section of Venice, Calif., where Johnson's Cooper, a washed-up attorney, seems destined to spend his final days in an alcohol haze.

And, then, along comes David "Skip" Ross, an 18-year-old prodigy who has a law school degree, but can't find a job because he's too young -- as well as having a few annoying tics of his own.

Cooper hires Ross hoping the kid's boundless enthusiasm and energy will give him more time at the bar -- the kind that serves drinks, not dispenses justice. Both attorneys, however, get more than they bargained for, with viewers offered one of the most engaging legal odd couples since Stuart Markowitz (Michael Tucker) and Ann Kelsey (Jill Eikenberry) of NBC's L.A. Law.

Jay Baruchel (Million Dollar Baby) plays Ross with a winningly earnest goofiness, while Johnson skillfully navigates the darkly comic territory of being over the hill and irritated by everything and everyone who reminds him of his glory days.

Just Legal airs at 10 tonight on WNUV (Channel 54).

Here are a few more shows that premiere tonight:

Out of Practice -- Stockard Channing is now playing a doctor on TV in two series -- returning as Dr. Abigail Bartlet in NBC's The West Wing, and debuting in this off-beat and engaging CBS family sitcom from the producers of Frasier. Here she is Dr. Lydia Barnes, matriarch of a dysfunctional family consisting of four medical doctors and one psychologist (Christopher Gorham), a son who thinks the rest of the clan looks down their noses at him because he's not an M.D.

Henry Winkler delights as a deadpan dad chasing women half his age in an effort to compensate for being professionally eclipsed by his ex-wife (Channing). Paula Marshall brings a wry touch to her role as a lesbian daughter and star-in-the-ER doc. Premieres at 9:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13).

How I Met Your Mother -- Every year CBS, which tends to attract older viewers, makes one lame sitcom about young adults trying to find "the one" true love. This is it. Tonight at 8:30 on WJZ (Channel 13).

Surface -- A mutant life form from beneath the sea threatens planet Earth. This season the networks are attempting to address post-9/11 fears with several dramas premised on invasion -- and this NBC show is the weakest of the lot. Tonight at 8 on WBAL (Channel 11).

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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