A.U.S.A.: Another Useless Stereotyped Attorney
by Christine Alice Corcos
NBC has launched its newest
legal show, A.U.S.A. (short for Assistant United States
Attorneys), a sitcom about newly minted federal prosecutors
in New York City, although it seems to be primarily a vehicle
for the star, Scott Foley, perhaps a starring role payoff for
his secondary role on the long running Felicity. A.U.S.A.
recycles every stereotype we've seen in the past five years
or longer of legal dramas and comedies, reaching back to Life's
Work for the clumsy, clueless protagonist (although Scott Foley
as Adam Sullivan is still a smarter and more competent lawyer
than Lisa Ann Walter as Lisa Ann Hunter, which isn't saying much),
Ally McBeal for the bathroom events, and Night Court
for the hostile top dog prosecutor (Peter Jacobson's Geoffrey
Lawrence though equally ambitious is clearly a more savvy attorney
than John LaRoquette's Dan Fielding). We don't see much of Sullivan's
colleague Ana Rivera (Ana Ortiz) as the savvy former cop turned
prosecutor in the first episode, but the back story suggests
that she is more competent and more street smart than Adam.
In addition, the laugh track is annoying and intrusive, and it
accompanies lines and actions that don't always merit guffaws.
We do escape one frequent cliché in the pilot, however.
Amanda Detmer as the public defender Susan Rakoff is smart,
compassionate and competent. That won't last long. According
to received television wisdom, able female attorneys are not
Nor is the pilot episode, which
aired Tuesday night after Frasier, particularly hilarious
and NBC spoils its attraction by showing the best bits in its
promos. Sullivan injures himself while learning to fire an AK47
(which annoys the ATF guy in charge of teaching him). He gets
water on his pants and tries to dry them with the hand dryer
while using the judges' bathroom (which annoys them, particularly
the one hearing his case). He shows up late on his first day
at a job that he claims he has "busted his ass for"
for six years, a tardiness which annoys his new boss and the
boss' cranky secretary. Think she's cranky because she spends
so much time with lawyers? I think she's cranky because she's
trapped in this sitcom.
In a really bad career move, Adam makes a date with one of the
jurors in his boss's case. To be fair, it isn't entirely his
fault. His roommate introduced them at the courthouse. By contrast
with the roommate, Sullivan is a brilliant guy. Why these two
are friends is complete mystery. Sullivan eventually shows some
compassion and some political smarts by deciding to drop the
prosecution of a Tuskegee Airman charged with cashing his dead
wife's Social Security checks in order to pay for her funeral.
He also tries to explain jury tampering to his buddy, which
is a futile maneuver. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
By making the date mentioned above with the juror, Sullivan becomes
the reason for a mistrial. His new boss is furious, but the laugh
track encourages us to giggle uncontrollably. The boss must be
able to hear us. He forgives Adam and gives him his first case-the
prosecution of this retired soldier and war hero. The war hero
appears in court and before Sullivan can begin his case, tells
the judge he is ready to plead guilty. Then Rakoff gives the
court a rundown of his accomplishments. She and her client look
good. Sullivan looks bad. The judge (from the bathroom incident)
looks annoyed and disgusted. Sullivan leaves the courtroom in
disarray. He discusses the case with his incompetent paralegal,
Wally (John Ross Bowie). He decides to dismiss the charges,
though his boss doesn't like the idea. He returns to court, only
to discover that the defendant was injured in the courthouse
tackling a thief and is now in the hospital recuperating from
a broken hip. Sullivan visits him and is unfunnily and unceremoniously
escorted out by two of the defendant's Tuskegee colleagues, both
in their late seventies. Their dignity saves the scene from
being hopelessly trite but Sullivan looks pathetic.
A comedy about lawyers could be very amusing. This show's pedigree
should have ensured that it is. Its creator, Rich Appel, was
a federal prosecutor before he turned to writing, and he has
written some good material, especially for The Simpsons.
Scott Foley, who starred in Felicity, is a good actor.
His colleagues make up a capable ensemble. But the characters
don't really come together. A.U.S.A. doesn't seem destined
to be an ensemble show, like its lead-in Frasier. Its jokes are
stale, and delivered with absolutely no style. What magnifies
its faults further is that the network gave the show's creators
some extra time to redo things which it asked that instead of
filming the series with a single camera, they reshoot using multiple
cameras. The additional time should have cued Appel and his associates
to rethink some other aspects of the show.
Like so many law series, A.U.S.A. sacrifices opportunities
to talk seriously yet amusingly about the law for cheap laughs
at the profession's expense. Instead of using the financial plight
of the retired to make some memorable points about how our society
treats its elderly and its veterans, it insults both those victims
and its audience, especially with its use of slapstick humor.
The elderly, the disabled and veterans who can't make ends meet
on their Social Security is not a funny subject, you object?
Absolutely true, but I didn't choose the topic.
More than this I cannot say; the show doesn't offer much more,
at least not yet. I had planned to try to catch the second episode,
but missed it, and have lost any enthusiasm for watching the
third. I am very disappointed in this new series. I was ready
for a clever, smart, pointed legal satire. My verdict: unless
it develops a likeable and distinct personality and some new
approaches, A.U.S.A. will disappear quickly from NBC's
lineup, to be replaced by some other lightweight and equally
Posted February 20, 2003