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TV Column
Posted at 01:40 AM ET, 01/07/2012

Winter TV Press Tour 2012: TV critics put NBC’s new ‘The Firm’ on the defensive


Josh Lucas as Mitch McDeere in “The Firm” on NBC. (Steve Wilkie - STEVE WILKIE/NBC)
TV critics tore apart NBC’s reboot of “The Firm” at Winter TV Press Tour 2012.

The series continues the story from John Grisham’s book of same name, which was made into a Tom Cruise flick about hot shot lawyer Mitchell McDeere, who goes to work for the practically perfect law firm, only after which he discovers its mob ties. McDeere, now played by Josh Lucas, and his family have spent 10 years in the Federal Witness Protection Program since he ratted out the firm, but they’ve now re-emerged and settled in Washington D.C. – where he winds up being asked to join a law firm that appears to be a front for some nefarious types and things go downhill from there.

“Was it always necessary that Mitch just has the most spectacularly bad luck on earth selecting law firms he works at?” one critic, who’s clearly not buying it, asked peevishly at the top of a Q&A with show creators and cast, during Winter TV Press Tour 2012.

“We really tried to take to heart that thought that people might have, and make sure we were keeping Mitch as smart and resourceful and intelligent about those issues as he could be,” show runner Lukas Reiter said, back when he thought he could make the critics love him and his show.

“The fun of the series comes from watching Mitch get into a situation that you then want to get excited about seeing how he gets out of it. So we did need to have Mitch encountering certain challenges again, but we are trying very hard to be smart about exactly that concern.”

“Why is Mitch McDeere still using his real name?” asked another dubious critic.

“I mean, he’s on the run from the mob,” the critic continued to complain. “He’s a lawyer; he’s probably in FindLaw. And, somehow the mobsters still can’t find him after all this time? I mean, if you just Google him -- ”

“I think it speaks to the character in exactly the way that I would like it to, that you ask that question,” Reiter said, convincing no one in the room.

“This is who the guy is…He’s going to reclaim his name; he’s going to reclaim his independence. He’s going to walk out there and say, ‘Here I am. I’m not going to live my life in fear’,” Reiter explained.

“But he has a wife and child. Isn’t that just insane?” asked the critic, still not buying what Reiter was selling.

And, then, there is The Reflecting Pool Scene. In the pilot, Mitch is chased by bad guys in suits right to the edge of the pool. Mitch wades in. But, the bad guys stop at water’s edge “like it’s electric water or something,” one critic sneered, adding, “I’m just sort of wondering: does he have mystical powers?”

By now Reiter had probably caught on that there was a hate in the room for “The Firm.” But he soldiered on bravely.

“These are two guys. I know in the pilot you don’t know who they are, but I know who they are and they’ve got some very shady things about them that they wouldn’t want the world to know. I can tell you, having shot there [in Washington], you stick your foot in that water and park rangers come out of everywhere to figure out what you’re up to and why.”

“But [Mitch] got through it,” the critic noted.

“But these guys with guns who are chasing after him, I’m not sure it’s the smartest thing to draw attention to themselves by going through the water. So it made sense to us,” Reiter said.

“I hope it will make sense to an audience,” he added, limply.

At this point, it’s not a Q&A so much as a pile-on. Another critic set a trap for Reiter, asking when the show is set. It’s set in the present day, Reiter said.

“So how do you explain the pay phone?” the critic asked.

(After wading through the water, Mitch calls his wife from a pay phone to tell her to dump her cell phone and follow the family “emergency plan.”)

“The idea is the pay phone represents his paranoia. It’s very true to the fact,” Reiter explained, missing the point.

“But do they exist any more?” the critic shot back, making his point clear. “I don’t know if you could actually find one anywhere, especially right along the Reflecting Pool.”

Reiter had no snappy comeback. Instead, he went with: “If Mitch McDeere can’t find a pay phone at this point, with all his intelligence and resourcefulness, we’re all in trouble.”

If by “all” he means “this show,” critics would have agreed.

Hours later, NBC chief Bob Greenblatt got up on stage to tell the TV critics they “did a little bit of quick research and there are four pay phones in the D.C. plaza area where we shot [‘The Firm’] pilot – just do you know.

Critics laughed.

By  |  01:40 AM ET, 01/07/2012

 
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