John Grisham’s “The Film” and the subsequent Sydney Pollack film were viewed as a beach read and a consummate piece of popcorn entertainment and both were approached with only the most casual eye toward logic or accuracy.
Somehow, though, the team behind NBC’s new “10 years later…” series follow-up to “The Firm” arrived at the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday (January 6) morning and faced a slew of logistical and narrative questions that boiled down to variations on the “What the heck sense does…mean?”
Fortunately, series developer and executive producer Lukas Reiter was prepared to enter into a discussion on the salient points under contention.
Click through for Reiter and his stars’ answers to some important questions. They do include some minor spoilers, but not of anything that that hasn’t already been spoiled in NBC’s teasers for the show. You can either check out the responses now, or perhaps on Sunday night after tuning in to the two-hour pilot.
NBC’s “The Firm” finds Josh Lucas stepping into Tom Cruise’s shoes as super-attorney Mitch McDeere. While the book and film found McDeere taking a too-good-to-be-true job at a law firm with mob ties, the series also sets up the idea that Mitch might be asked to join a new law firm and that said law firm might also be just a wee bit shady.
To paraphrase John McClane’s lament from “Die Hard 2,” how can the same [thing] happen to the same guy twice? Or does he just have spectacularly bad luck with choosing law firms?
That was the question that I asked to start the panel.
“You know, it”s funny you say that because, from my very first conversation with John Grisham about this, that was front and center in what we talked about,” Reiter admitted. “We said, ‘What do you mean? So every time Mitch McDeere walks into a law firm, he”s walking into a front for a corrupt organization?’ So from the beginning, guys, I really promise, we really tried to take to heart that thought that people might have and make sure that we were keeping Mitch as smart and resourceful and intelligent about those issues as he could be. So you”ll notice he doesn”t charge headlong into a firm in this series, actually. He”s very reticent about that, and he actually makes the decision to create an association with that firm, right? And that association allows him to keep his own office, keep his autonomy, keep that independent spirit that”s so central to the character. I mean, to some extent, 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.”
But there were bigger and more important questions.
Like why the heck his Mitch McDeere, somewhat on the run from the mob, or at least not on entirely friendly terms with the the mob, still going by the name “Mitch McDeere” and, heck, practicing law under that name?
“I think that is Mitch McDeere, guys,” Reiter told the curious reporter. “This is who this guy is. He”s a guy who”s in Witness Protection. He”s made this decision to protect his family, and when he finally feels like the coast is clear, 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.’ I mean, that is very much at the center of the character. This is a guy who would do that. And I think for me it makes him endearing. It makes me love him. It makes me want to be him, and I hope people feel the same.”
Reiter continued, “But this is the drama, guys, is that he”s saying to himself, ‘You know, I don”t want to be reckless. I don”t want to be foolish, but I also don”t want to live a life in pointless fear. So if the threat is gone, then I want to reclaim my life.’ And I think you”ll see as the series goes on, all the questions that you”re asking about whether he made the right decision, whether he”s being fair to his wife, whether he”s being fair to his daughter in what he”s subjecting them to, those are issues that we”re very much getting into, and he”s having conversations with both his family and the FBI and the marshal”s office.”
But the nit-picking continued.
The pilot opens with a chase scene in Washington, a foot-race that finds our hero rushing off through the reflecting pool, a tactic that seems to thwart his pursuers in reasons that aren’t necessarily clear.
“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, you know, they wouldn”t want the world to know,” Reiter said. “I can tell you having shot there, you stick your foot in that water, and park rangers come out of everywhere to figure out what you”re up to and why. He made it through, but these guys with guns, these guys 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. I hope it will make sense to an audience, and it”s certainly an exciting and thrilling part of the opening sequence.”
But the greatest logical sin of all? In one scene, McDeere needs to have a conversation with his wife, Abby (Molly Parker), and his location of choice? A pay phone.
“[T]ake a look at the scene, if you would, again, because you”ll notice that from the very first line that Abby says is ‘Mitch, what number are you calling me from?'” Reiter noted (after laughing). “And the whole conversation stems around the fact, with Abby, ‘I need you to lose your phone and follow the emergency plan. I can”t talk to you on this line. People could be listening.’ The idea is the pay phone represents his paranoia.”
[That, by the way, ended up being a popular choice as Friday’s Line-of-the-Tour, “The pay phone represents his paranoia.”]
Because even the mere existence of a pay phone in that area was met with skepticism, no less than NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt took the stage later in the day to announce that research indicated that four “clean” pay phones were actually available in the depicted area.
And now we all know.
And now you all know as well.
As always, viewers will get to decide for themselves if these nagging mysteries were even the least bit problematic. “The Firm” premieres on Sunday, January 8.