LAW FIRMS OF THE FUTURE
RESEMBLE THOSE OF THE PAST: CENTURY CITY
By Michael Asimow
What if you took the law firm of McKenzie, Brackman from L.
A. Law and fast-forwarded it to the year 2030? You'd have
a law firm a lot like the firm in CBS' promising new law series
L. A. Law's successful run lasted from 1986 until 1994
. The show was a real breakthrough for law-oriented TV programming.
It dealt with law the way it's practiced today--in firms and
for profit--and thus updated the stale Perry Mason-Matlock
format. Its crew of appealing actors worked well together in
ensemble form. Each week the show tackled interesting legal and
ethical issues. It didn't neglect the personal lives of the lawyers.
L.A. Law usually presented enough toothsome legal issues
to make it worth watching, even if you didn't care about the
characters' sex lives. Generically L.A. Law was a workplace
drama, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, E. R., or
M*A*S*H, in which the characters' personal and professional
lives revolve around their place of employment.
Century City seems consciously modeled on L. A. Law.
We're going to learn a lot about the personal lives of the lawyers.
And the characters seem strangely familiar. There's the avuncular
senior partner-Leland McKenzie becomes Martin Constable. Or the
cynical, money-grubbing, sexually harassing partner-Douglas Brackman
becomes Darwin McNeil. There's ethnic diversity - Jonathan Rollins
becomes Hannah Crane. And ambitious female associates-Ann Kelsey
and Abby Perkins become Lee May Bristol (who's genetically engineered
to be the perfect lawyer). We've got idealistic young lawyers-Michael
Kuzak becomes Lukas Gold-and aggressive but principled prosecutors-Grace
Van Owen becomes Matthew Chin.
The firm of Crane, Constable, McNeil & Montero firm is set
right smack in the same neck of the woods as L. A. Law-Century
City is a hive of corporate law firms about 10 miles west
of downtown L. A. As in L.A. Law, the Constable firm is
small, hungry for business, and definitely upscale. Its beautiful
office space in Century City is nothing like the crummy
Boston office in The Practice.
The original twist in Century City is that it marries
the sci-fi genre with the law genre by setting the time ahead
to 2030. There's lots of neat little futuristic tricks like virtual
reality pretrial conferences with the judge, much better video
games and cosmetic surgery, super-duper genetic technology, and
cherries without pits. The only implausible premise is that L.
A. has a cool monorail system. Dream on.
You know what? I liked the premiere episode and I'm rooting for
the Crane, Constable firm-and the show-to succeed. It's just
so much better than the unlamented Ally McBeal or the
really dumb law firm series that appeared and swiftly disappeared
in the last few years (The Girls' Club, The First Years).
I think the idea of focusing on cutting-edge bio-tech issues
is promising. Both the premiere's serious A story (having to
do with organ harvesting from cloned embryos) and humorous B
story (concerning a contract whereby members of a rock band promise
to stay eternally young) were pretty interesting. There is a
wealth of good story ideas here. I like the struggle between
the business and professional models of law firms, as young associate
Lukas Gold persuades the reluctant older heads that he should
take on a big pro bono case. I liked the way the young lawyers
talk about why they became lawyers and the partners talk about
the stresses of law practice.
And I'm happy to see balanced presentations of law firms. The
usual pop culture approach to law firms is to portray them as
nests of unadulterated evil. John Grisham does this in nearly
every one of his books. Films like The Devil's Advocate, The
Firm, Regarding Henry, Philadelphia and numerous others drum
out variations on this theme. David Kelley's The Girl's Club
was more of the same. Now, I'm no fan of large law firms, but
they're not that bad. Century City, like L.A. Law
before it, keeps things in perspective. Like the hospitals, police
stations, space ships, TV studios, and the other sites of workplace
television drama, there is good and bad in law firms and in the
lawyers who play out their personal and professional existences
So more power to you Century City! May you find your audience
before you're bleeped by low ratings.
Posted: April 1, 2004