With "FlashForward" taking an extended hiatus until March, ABC is using the Thursday night 8 p.m. slot to launch "The Deep End." Proximity to "Grey's Anatomy" is no coincidence, because if imitation truly is the most sincere form of flattery, "The Deep End" is flattering Shonda Rhimes' popular medical drama to the extreme. Think of it as "Grey's Attorney" (not to be confused with "Grey's Astronomy," as I dubbed the brief summer run of "Defying Gravity").
Created by David Hemingson, "The Deep End" is mighty familiar, but the young, attractive cast is enthusiastic enough to yield some amusing moments, even if the odds of the show eliciting any real passion are low.
[More on "The Deep End" after the break...]
Just as "Grey's Anatomy" began with a pretty group of doctors starting their residency, "The Deep End" follows five eager-beaver young associates (Matt Long, Leah Pipes, Ben Lawson, Tina Majorino and Mehcad Brooks) at a high powered Los Angeles law firm. Now matter how enthusiastic or idealistic or driven they are when they arrive, they're around to discover how the legal system really works.
Meanwhile, at the top of the masthead, Billy Zane's Cliff -- dubbed The Prince of Darkness -- and Hart Sterling (Clancy Brown) are battling for the soul of the law film, often using the associates as pawns.
Written by Hemingson and directed by Michael Fresco, the pilot for "The Deep End" aims right down the middle, never attempting anything structural or aesthetically to evolve the genre (not that they were required to). The Los Angeles settings are bright and well shot, making the most of the city's downtown area, but the cases that the associates become involved in are forgettable to the extreme.
The specifics of the individual attorneys and their character traits are also pretty archetypal and hastily sketched (how could they be otherwise, trying to introduce 10 characters, with cases for each, all in 43 minutes). Long's Dylan is a freshly scrubbed Boy Scout with a Savior Complex, determined to the do the right thing at any cost. Majorino's Addy is meek and overlooked and desperate to find her voice. Pipes' Beth has an impressive legal lineage and seems to know all of the ropes, but her professionalism is just masking predictable Daddy issues. Lawson's Liam is a randy Aussie with an apparent sex addiction, who also possesses a photographic memory that initially takes the backseat to his libido. And Brooks' character isn't introduced until the end of the pilot, but he's positioned as the outsider.
None of the young stars are breaking far outside of their comfort levels, so if you liked them elsewhere, you'll still be OK with them. Since it's a pretty safe bet that Brooks' character is going to be a loooooong way from where we saw him last -- a little show called "True Blood" -- that may be more interesting and fresh than what his colleagues are doing.
Zane has the stand-out, scenery-chewing role and my immediate instinct was his character as a sort of Lex Luthor, attorney-at-law. And, come to think of it, I would watch a show called "Lex Luthor, Attorney-at-Law." There's enough tension and flying sparks when Zane and Brown are butting heads that you can also imagine a version of "The Deep End" that's mostly about them fighting and lets the pretty people drink, hook up and occasionally practice law as a B or C plotline. Alas, that show would be demographically undesirable and wouldn't really be "Grey's Attorney," it would probably be a CBS legal drama or something.
There's one additional casting tease in the presence of Rachelle Lefevre, who has suddenly become a marketable face thanks to the "Twilight" movies and features semi-prominently in the "Deep End" advertisements. Now me, I've been a fan of The Fever since "Life on a Stick" and I'm always happy to have her around, but her character, a capable paralegal, is treated almost like a regular in the first episode, but she isn't going to be around much longer, so don't be fooled.
I have an assortment of other thoughts on "The Deep End," but they're random and I'm feeling too lazy in the mountain air of Park City to finesse them into a review, so here are those other thoughts:
*** Probably "The Deep End" isn't an 8 p.m. show. There's a lot of sexuality and double-entendre for the time period. Obviously, it's compatible with "Grey's Anatomy" and if ABC really and truly wanted it to succeed, they'd be airing it at 10 p.m. Instead, ABC continues to use "Grey's Anatomy" to prop up "Private Practice," which feels like a short-sighted decision to me. I know that "Grey's Anatomy" was never a good launching pad previously, but that's the sort of thing you're supposed to try if you want to build a lineup. It's time to throw "Private Practice" and "Brothers & Sisters" out into the wild to fend for themselves.
*** Norbert Leo Butz plays another of the firm's partners and the musical theater icon is strangely miscast. But who cares? It's fun to say/write/think "Norbert Leo Butz."
*** The expression "Come to Jesus Moment" is a good one, but it may have reached its film-and-television usage tipping point. Also reaching its tipping point? The phrase "tipping point."
*** If you follow my Twitter feed, you've already seen this observation: Tom Amandes, who guest stars here, is the small screen David Strathairn. I can't think of any part (other than maybe Edward R. Murrow) in which I could cast one, but not the other. That's not an insult, because I like both Amandes and Strathairn. Just an observation.
*** Meredith Monroe, who also guest stars in the first episode, ought to work more. Is her problem that she's older than people expect her to be? Other than a not-so-rewarding turn on "Criminal Minds," she hasn't had a good extended role in anything (or anything *I* watch) for a long time.
Wait. What show am I reviewing again? "The Deep End" didn't cause me any real pain in the watching, but darned if there was anything drawing me back to watch again.
"The Deep End" premieres on Thursday, January 21 at 8 p.m. on ABC.