Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

Christine Corcos



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The [] male character [] has to face several problems usually reserved for women with children: looking for jobs that allow them to spend time with their children for at least part of the day and looking for jobs that will pay for child care that covers the rest of the day.

Feature article


by Christine Alice Corcos

Kevin Hill is a much better show than its advertising campaign last fall suggested, and rapidly becoming as good a show as it can be. The commercials emphasized Kevin (Taye Diggs)'s sex appeal, his love life and his charisma, and how all of that would cause problems for him when he meets up with a one year child-his dead cousin's daughter, Sarah, who becomes his ward in the first episode. Instant conflict! What will Kevin do when he has to decide between going out on a date with an attractive woman and staying in with little Sarah who has the sniffles? What a dilemma!

It is a dilemma for a young professional in his late 20s, used to putting his own desires first and not quite ready to settle down. The girlfriends who drift in and out of Kevin's life and the clients who pay his fees have tried and failed to make him see what Sarah communicates to him in about forty-eight hours-that sometimes other people come first. In fact, Sarah's crying for her lost daddy and the fact that Kevin can't find a sitter keeps this self-absorbed young attorney up so that he can't prepare for his cases. His senior partner tells him to choose between his position at the firm and the baby. Out of loyalty to his cousin, Kevin ultimately chooses Sarah. In the first episode, he's back on the street fairly quickly, looking for a position that will allow him to care for Sarah as well as pursue his legal career. The show thus presents us with a male character who has to face several problems usually reserved for women with children: looking for jobs that allow them to spend time with their children for at least part of the day and looking for jobs that will pay for child care that covers the rest of the day. It's not an easy task, as Kevin finds out fairly quickly. He tries various firms throughout the city, and each rejects him, worried that the strain of caring for Sarah will distract him. They've also heard that he has mishandled a couple of cases since Sarah arrived, so their concerns are justified.

Luckily for our hero he's an honors graduate of a prestigious New York area law school, and he's male (though African-American). He stumbles on a law firm (Grey and Associates) founded and run by a woman (Michael Michele) who faces the very same problem. She tells Kevin she wanted to set up a firm that would allow women attorneys to practice law on their terms, at their pace, at their own time, and with time off if they needed it to see to their children. What a break! But Kevin's not convinced. After all, he was once an associate at a big-time law firm. He's not certain he wants to throw in his lot with a bunch of women at a store front practice, even if they are pretty good lawyers. In addition, he's had a brief affair with one of them (Kate Levering), and he's not certain that he could handle seeing her every day. Viewers please note: almost every week Kevin will run into women with whom he's had, well, how can I put this delicately-dalliances. At this point, we are entitled to think, and I do think, that in the past Kevin has been quite a piece of work. Has he always walked away from women after bedding them? What effect will having custody of a young girl have on this pattern of behavior?

Since the offer from Grey and Associates is the only one he gets, Kevin decides to take it. The other women in the firm are less enthusiastic than the founding partner, however, but Kevin turns on the charm. His aggressive style is not what they are used to however, and many of the episodes emphasize clashes, either in court or in the office, during which the attorneys argue over how to handle clients or who should handle trial strategy. In one episode, "Making the Grade," Kevin and Nicolette, the fourth attorney in the practice, take on the defense of a man who runs a dating service and who is accused of fraud by a client who did not find his "perfect match." Nicolette clearly does not like the client or his services and has difficulty creating an adequate defense; Kevin simply forges ahead. But he alienates the jury with his characterization of the plaintiff as a pathetic whiner to such an extent that Nicolette must take over the case. In another episode he realizes the limitations of the law when he realizes both that his mentor from law school is guilty of sexual harassment and that he will not be able to bring the man to justice. Several episodes demonstrate Kevin's inability to tone down his approach and his need to learn to be a real "team player" (as opposed to the kind of "team playing" that some men mean when they use the term). In the law firm Kevin has now joined, "team playing" means listening to what other people say, and hearing them. It does not mean preparing what you are going to say while waiting for them to stop talking. Kevin's evolution from a cocky know it all to a more mature adult, is heartening to watch.

Similarly, Kevin's relationships progress from one-night stands with pretty women who leave him because he simply won't call to friendships, if not actual commitments. When Sarah's nanny George tells a woman in whom Kevin is genuinely interested that he isn't the type to get serious, Kevin is furious, not solely because it isn't as true now as it has been in the past as because he realizes that he has no right to expect that George trust him in this matter. Just because he is trying very hard to make certain that in this particular case a real relationship develops does not mean that he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Kevin, like Sarah, is growing, and so is this show. Past actions have present consequences, not just for Kevin's clients, but for him.

The legal issues presented in Kevin Hill test boundaries. In some cases they are reminiscent of Ally McBeal. In "Homework," a woman sues her daughter for mishandling a trust fund because the young woman is getting investment advice from her dead father via a psychic. In others they are truly well thought out and quite provocative. The writers do a creditable job of explaining complex legal theories to the lay public. In "Snack Daddy," a client wants to sue her employer for sex discrimination because she has been terminated from her position as a sales representative. The employer claims she hasn't been performing well and clients have complained. The evidence seems to support the employer's position until Kevin and his colleagues investigate by asking the clients. What is incredible in the story, however, is that they seem to wait until the last minute. The client is ready to sign a paltry settlement; Kevin rushes in shouting, "Wait! Don't sign!" having discovered that "someone" (the client's fiancé) concocted a story about the client not performing well as a sales rep. This creep's explanation is that one of the two of them would have had to leave the company once they were married-why is not evident. His career was more solid than hers, and he would have supported her anyway. The writers use the "surprise ending" to augment our appreciation of Kevin's skill as a lawyer. In truth, he looks less competent. Competent lawyers would have interviewed the clients to find out what they thought of the woman, and would have tumbled to the discrepancies in the employer's story much sooner than do Kevin and his colleagues. The writers could still have made a surprise ending out of confronting the fiancé and surprising the client in a meeting. It didn't have to be at the last minute, precisely when she was signing the settlement agreement and waiving her rights. In the same episode we see Kevin begin a relationship with a single mother he meets at Sarah's day care. He likes her, but not enough to continue seeing her when he discovers that she wants to continue seeing him, even though the only thing that he can point to that makes him uncomfortable is precisely that (see comments above).

Kevin Hill is on my list of favorite television lawyer shows for this season. I rarely miss it, because I truly like the acting-it's fresh and vigorous. I particularly admire Patrick Breen as the caring nanny George, who hands out tough love and dating tips with equal fervor. The female attorneys have plenty to do, and they do it with competence. Sarah is a refreshingly real little girl, not an overly cute Hollywood creation. And Taye Diggs as Kevin shows both masculinity and emotion. He is an accomplished actor with presence and style. In the Popular Culture Defense Bar Association (PCDBA) Kevin Hill should run for President.

Posted March 10, 2005

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