Review: ABC’s ‘The Whole Truth’

Senior Television Writer
09.21.10 14 Comments


If it had even a token regular police presence, it would be easy to re-dub ABC’s “The Whole Truth” (which debuts Wednesday at 10 p.m.) as “Law & Order: ADD.” This is a criminal law show that doesn’t have much of an attention span, and one that suspects that you don’t, either.

Maura Tierney and Rob Morrow play, respectively, a Manhattan ADA and a successful defense lawyer, who each week square off in court. (And I’ll forgive the contrivance of having the same two lawyers so routinely go head-to-head, simply because Tierney and Morrow’s professional chemistry is the most watchable part of the show.) We watch her as she builds a case, then bounce over to see Morrow and his team work, etc., etc., splitting time equally up through the verdict, at which point we get a little epilogue telling us (but not the lawyers) whodunnit.

The dual perspectives or prosecution and defense is a bit of a novelty from the Jerry Bruckheimer production team, since their shows (the “CSI”s, “Cold Case,” NBC’s new “Chase”) tend to take the side of law-enforcement. But the format is mainly an excuse for a rat-a-tat pace where we’re often ping-ponging between Tierney and Morrow multiple times in the same scene as each lawyer reacts to the latest development with their respective sidekicks.

Things get even faster once the trial begins, when you’re lucky if you see 10 seconds of each witness’ testimony, and even luckier if there’s an actual cross-examination.

I have nothing against a fast pace when it warrants it, but half the fun of the courtroom drama comes from watching the lawyers build their strategy slowly, and then from seeing the gamesmanship with witnesses, and most of that’s lost here. “The Whole Truth” is just a plot engine revving fast and loud – the Cliff’s Notes for some unseen version of the same story.

And the producers have so little faith in your ability to keep up with the story that the closing arguments are accompanied by snippets of testimony – some of them things we just heard a minute or two earlier – to both illustrate the monologues and to prepare us for the “whole truth” epilogue, where we’ll, say, see some crucial piece of evidence in the possession of someone who shouldn’t have it to explain who the guilty party really was.

I’m glad to see Tierney back on TV after breast cancer forced her to drop out of the role Lauren Graham wound up taking on “Parenthood,” and she and Morrow do work well together. Where other law shows tend to have one side view the other as the embodiment of evil, here we see that these two are old friends from law school who enjoy the battle of wits even as they’re convinced they’re on the right side of every fight. On those occasions when “The Whole Truth” slows down to just let those two bounce off each other, it’s a show I almost want to watch. But the rest of it is too fast, and too thin, to bother with.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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