LA TIMES
'The Practice' Almost Makes Perfect

By Howard Rosenberg
03/97

Television can't have too much of a good thing. So roll out the red carpet for "The Practice," even if this spirited new ABC drama getting a tryout in the "NYPD Blue" time slot is prime time's umpteenth legal series of the '90s.

Executive producer David E. Kelley adds to his superior credits ("L.A. Law," "Picket Fences," "Chicago Hope") with this very appealing rendering of legal commandos who practice law largely by the seats of their pants in chaotic Boston offices that look like an unmade bed. The cast is good, the stories arresting and the characters compelling, most notably Bobby Donnel (Dylan McDermott), who heads this band of attorneys that one of his colleagues, Ellenor Frutt (Camryn Manheim), cynically labels a "bottom-feeding-do-whatever-you-can-to-get-your-client-off law firm."

So much for glamour.

In fact, "The Practice" tries mightily to deglamorize the law, and in the process delivers an entertaining hour in which Bobby's ragtag underdogs stand firm against one Goliath after another. In tonight's premiere, that includes green attorney Lindsay Dole (Kelli Williams) combating a giant tobacco company defended by her sniffy, condescending former law professor (Edward Herrmann) in a lawsuit from a plaintiff who blames the cigarette manufacturer for the death of his heavy smoking wife.

Meanwhile, a 17-year-old girl who emphatically claims she is innocent refuses Bobby's repeated advice to take a plea bargain in a drug-related case that he believes he can't win. Adding to his client's and Bobby's problems is the pasting he gets from a tough judge (memorably played by Linda Hunt). Thus, he knows that to get the defendant off, he must "give the closing [argument] of my life."

Does he? Uh, next question.

Based on initial episodes, "The Practice" is a good series stopped mostly by its predictability from being very, very good. So never count out either Bobby or Lindsay, although the latter appears overmatched against the tobacco giant even when getting assistance from her savvy colleague, Eugene Young (Steve Harris).

Also on the negative side, Bobby appears to commit an ethics no-no in a future episode by rejecting a substantial settlement in a civil case without consulting his client, and "The Practice" resorts to occasional hoakiness in the courtroom.

Even though it may not always practice good law, however, it practices good television, intelligently and sometimes with a sense of humor, evidenced by a future episode that finds Jimmy Berluti (Michael Badalucco), the firm's low-rung lawyer by default, taking to the airwaves to advertise for business.

Unlike NBC's oft-brilliant "Law & Order," this series is much less interested in the fabric, complex threads and inner lining of the legal process than in the nubby surface of that process. Other such series have followed that formula, but few as rewardingly as the legal bottom-feeders of "The Practice."

THE END

Transcript courtesy of LA Times1997 All Rights Reserved

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