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Is 'Harry's Law' the worst show David E. Kelley has ever created?

Harry’s Law, one of the few new show ratings successes in recent months, looks as though it is filmed on a cheap studio set, and features dialogue so mawkish and florid, it reminds me of an earlier Monday-night-TV standby, the WB’s spiritual-family-show 7th Heaven. Indeed, the clunky rhythms of Harry’s Law make 7th Heaven sound like Paradise Lost by comparison. Despite the presence of Oscar winner Kathy Bates in

the title role as storefront lawyer Harriet Korn, Harry’s Law is rather amazingly bad. Creator David E. Kelley managed to eke out a mass-America hit with the enjoyably ridiculous Boston Legal. But his penchant for foolish exaggeration, which has only increased over the years, tips over into condescending ludicrousness with Harry’s Law.

I’m not talking about the notion of a 60-year-old patent lawyer starting up “Harriet’s Law & Fine Shoes” in downtown Cincinnati. I’m glad to see a 60-year-old main character in prime time, and also welcome the return of American Dreams’ Brittany Snow to weekly television, as Harriet’s shoe-fond assistant, Jenna. But let’s face it, these two are not William Shatner’s Denny and James Spader’s Alan trading quips, cigars, and non sequiturs. As good as Bates and Snow are, there’s little chemistry between them, the way their characters have been written (mostly by Kelley, who takes a writer or co-writer credit on almost everything that emerges from his TV-making factory).

No, I’m talking about the peculiarity of having Harriet becoming the patron saint of the predominantly black community in which her storefront is located. Gang members troop in for summit meetings with her. Last week, the show introduced us to a young man who was running a remarkably well-stocked but illegal medical clinic, as he diagnosed ear infections and pulled a knife from the leg of a poor soul, all without formal training but with a Harry’s Law halo over his head because he was Helping the Deserving Poor. As I said, condescending, and cringe-worthy. Some of Kelley’s shows start off well (Ally McBeal; Chicago Hope; Picket Fences) and then devolve into silliness; Harry’s Law has started out silly and, so far, has just gotten more irrational.

But to answer my question in the headline: Is this Kelley’s worst show? No. To say so would be to forget flops such as girls club, The Wedding Bells, and Snoops:

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No, Harry’s Law is something else: It’s Kelley’s worst success, his most egregious show with one of the best actors he’s ever had (that would be Bates). There’s a new episode on tonight; I’ll watch and see if the show improves. Hope so.

UPDATE: Monday night’s episode, titled “The Fragile Beast,” featured an Iraq war vet living not far from Harry’s office who was keeping his wife locked in the basement. Harry and Christopher McDonald’s Tommy Jefferson tried to get her free. They ended up locked in with the wife. “This is bad,” said Tommy. He summed up the entire hour. The subplot concerned a wife who hired a woman to engage in a threesome with her husband to spice up their sex life, and now she wanted to divorce him because he was having twosome-sex with the hired gal, and had fallen in love with her… or so we were lead to believe. I quote Tommy again: “This is bad.” Still not convinced? The episode included this line: “Jenna, I’m barely 20; I don’t read women good.” This is bad. Oh, and who are the “fragile beasts” of the episode title? Men. This is… you know…

What do you think of Harry’s Law?

Twitter: @kentucker

Originally posted March 14 2011 — 3:41 PM EDT

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