Every few years, Hollywood launches a new TV drama based on the Supreme Court, focused on either fictionally flawed justices or hot law clerks. So far, the shows have all crashed and burned. Hewing too closely to real life at the Court tends to make the dramas dry, while spicing things up makes them too unbelievable.
Tonight, NBC takes another run up the marble steps with a show called "Outlaw," starring Jimmy Smits as a fun-loving justice who quits to go into private practice representing the little guy, including one defendant he once ruled on. He takes his hot law clerks with him, apparently. We've contacted NBC to determine whether the Supreme Court is left behind after the first episode, or whether it continues to play a bit part, but have not gotten calls back. Trailers and other promotional material are available here.The official premiere is Sept. 17, but it is being previewed on NBC tonight.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF,) which counts the Emmy Award-winning actor Smits as a supporter, is urging everyone to tune in. "With Latinos now the nation's largest minority group and an increasingly important part of our nation's future, positive depictions of Latinos on television remain regrettably in short supply. Jimmy Smits' portrayal of a Latino former Supreme Court justice doing good as a legal advocate is therefore a welcome -- and, we hope, an enduring -- addition to the TV landscape," said MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas Saenz.
Unfortunately, based on early reviews, the show may not last long, and may not reflect well on anyone involved, including Smits. The Washington Post today offered a scorcher of a preview under a headline urging bluntly that the show "should be dismissed." One of its lines: "The show is so ludicrously dumb that your eyeballs will hurt from rolling so much."
Tough as the review is, it doesn't compare to the one-word comment offered by veteran Supreme Court advocate Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin after he watched "First Monday," one of the Supreme Court shows that had a brief life in 2002. Phillips called it "vomitous."
We'll report back tomorrow on the show and invite your reviews as well.