I think that it’s probably acceptable to have a premise as ridiculous as the one that drives NBC’s “Outlaw.” The crime isn’t in the ridiculousness, but in the decision to approach that ridiculousness with leaden seriousness.
That’s why I love Sepinwall’s tongue-in-cheek interpretation of “Outlaw” as “a body swap comedy in legal drag.” That show would be fresh, original and, despite itself, fun.
As it stands now, “Outlaw” is just a drag, legal or otherwise.
Full review of “Outlaw” after the break…
By now, you’ve probably heard the premise of “Outlaw” repeated several times in several reviews, mocked on every occasion. And who wouldn’t mock it? It’s stupid.
Cyrus Garza (Jimmy Smits) is the most conservative judge on the United States Supreme Court. Still saddened by the death of his liberal activist dad and struggling with gambling debt, Garza decides he’s tired of settling legal fights. He wants to get into the fight himself. So he ditches his appointment to the most powerful court in the land, ditches maybe 50 percent of his established Right Wing ideology and hits the road as a crusader for his own confusing brand of justice.
One week he looks like he’s a liberal. The next week he looks like he’s a conservative.
The reality is… He’s an OUTLAW!
Somebody who knows anything about historical precedent might point out that when it comes to the Supreme Court, it’s kinda a job real people in real history don’t actually leave, especially not to become completely different people. But why should that matter to Cyrus Garza?
Cuz he’s an OUTLAW!
Somebody who knows anything about the way actual law is practiced in the United States might wonder about an attorney hopping from state to state representing clients willy-nilly without any sort of bar-based considerations or realistic prep times. Heck — serious question — after all of his years on the bench, what are the odds that Garza is actively allowed to practice law *anywhere* much less *everywhere*? But never mind. Rules don’t apply to Cyrus Garza.
Cuz he’s an OUTLAW!
Garza maintains a team of clerks, investigators and fellow lawyers — played by Carly Pope, Jesse Bradford, Ellen Woglom and David Ramsey — who follow him on his confusing crusade for no explicable reason and who he uses as a sounding board and then does the opposite of whatever they advise.
Cuz he’s an OUTLAW!
In the pilot, Garza gets all sentimental and gooey about one wrongfully accused man and then, in the second episode, he chides his partner for thinking with his heart and not his brain. For a different man, this shift might be incongruous, but not for Garza…
Cuz he’s an OUTLAW!
This just isn’t a show that can be played straight and, alas, “Outlaw” is a right-down-the-middle, inspiration-free legal drama without a new thought in its muddled legal mind.
And, let’s be honest, that *last* sentence is what’s wrong with “Outlaw.” I can harp all I want to about how unbelievable “Outlaw” is, but it’s not a documentary and doesn’t claim to be. Plenty of shows are unrealistic and find a way to be entertaining once you get past the clunker of a premise, they find a way to succeed on their own terms. “Outlaw” fails more significantly as a generic legal drama than it fails as a realistic portrait of the trials and tribulations of an ex-Supreme Court judge. The cases, slightly ripped from the headlines, aren’t interesting and in both of the episodes I’ve seen, Cyrus triumphs because he’s facing the worst-prepared attorneys in the history of the world, appearing before the most clownish judges in the history of the world. He doesn’t succeed because he’s an outlaw. He succeeds because everybody else sucks.
Cyrus Garza is an insufferable character because despite initial intimations regarding his frailties and insecurities, all he mostly does in the first two episodes is grandstand. And we know that Jimmy Smits is more-than-capable of playing a determined grandstander (to say nothing of a grandstanding attorney), but he’s a better actor than that. The chances to show weakness were actually what made his recent work on “Dexter” and, to a lesser degree, “Cane,” so interesting.
And Smits doesn’t even look like he’s having fun with this. “Outlaw” functions as a sibling to the CBS legal drama “Shark,” except that James Woods’ maverick litigator had meaty dialogue and embraced the character’s larger-than-life status. As a result, even if I rarely watched “Shark,” I knew I could tune in to pleasurably watch Woods chew scenery. “Outlaw” is just Smits on autopilot.
Frankly, I don’t get why they didn’t give Garza a motorcycle, a leather jacket, a bushy mustache and a 10-gallon hat. If you’re going to call your show something as bombastic as “Outlaw,” maybe you should allow your main character some bombast to match? My version of the show, by the way, uses this as its theme song.
Through two episodes, the other characters barely even make it to the level of “types.” Pope comes the closest to making an impression, but only because she’s playing a rule-breaking something-or-other and even if she doesn’t really break the rules interestingly, she looks sassy doing it. I just wish she had more to do than engaging in dead-ended flirtations with Bradford’s conservative-minded clerk, who mostly squirms in discomfort. I also wish Woglom’s liberal-minded clerk wasn’t forced into a humiliating and kinda icky crush on her boss, the sort of trait that would be less obnoxious if the writers suggested she was even slightly capable in her job. As for Ramsey, I didn’t find him very interesting as yet another of Deb’s less-than-appropriate romantic interests on “Dexter” and here, he can’t give any sort of insight into why on Earth his character is sticking with Garza.
I watched the pilot for “Outlaw” and my reaction was that maybe after the show moved past its inciting event and got down to its regular series business, it might settle into a regular, mediocre rhythm. Fortunately, NBC sent out a second episode that confirmed that while “Outlaw” won’t necessarily be dumber moving forward, it also seemingly won’t be less dumb.
“Outlaw” has a sneak preview on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 10 p.m. on NBC. It moves to its regular time period on Fridays starting next week.