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Tube Talk: TV’s New Legal Beagles

Tube Talk: a weekly TV column With John T. Forde

TV’s New Legal Beagles

Like its top-rating programme, Big Brother, TVNZ sees all and knows all. Last week, I was cyber-spanked by TVNZ for incorrectly stating that new lawyer drama The Guardian is on TV3. (It’s on TV2 on Thursdays at 8.30pm, possums.) By way of contrition, I’ll even admit that The Guardian ‘ain’t half bad.

Former Home & Away star Simon Baker plays Nick, an Aryan-looking tax lawyer working for his Dad’s firm, who gets busted for doing drugs. To avoid a jail term, he agrees to 1500 hours of community service with the local shithole Child Protection Unit.

Nick then has to shuttle between his sleek icy corporate law firm and the working-class hustle of social services. Along the way, there’s the impeccably-groomed woman lawyer who’s got the hots for him, the badly-dressed social worker who never smiles, and a whole troop of adorable wide-eyed kids whom he has to defend.

So far, the setup seems like your standard liberal-drama series - Spoilt Greedy Anti-Hero falls from grace, learns a few home truths, abandons greed to Do Good, and maybe, in the tradition of Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman, even adopts a kid or two.

To its credit, The Guardian refuses to get mawkish. Realising that greed, and ambition are his best qualities, Nick manages to combine shrewd (read: evil) corporate litigation tactics to help his impoverished child clients. When a man stabs his wife to death in front of their son, Nick pluckily tries to sue the drug company who manufactured the father’s schizophrenia medication. Now it’s THAT kind of scheming that makes America great!

Because it’s TV, Nick never gets sweaty or dishevelled, despite working insane hours and apparently never eating.

But, impressively, the script exercises some restraint. Unlike The Practice, where the cast spend their time yelling rapid-fire speeches about the First Amendment in court, striding down corridors pouting and looking self-righteous, or ripping their shirts off and mounting each other on desks, people in The Guardian actually talk about the law. And there’s no attempt to gloss over the crappiness of family law, either – Nick’s clients generally get bum deals and don’t win a happy ending.

Nick seems forever buttoned-up and secretive, aided by Baker’s stony expressionless face and restrained delivery. (Whether it’s actorly intensity or he’s struggling to remember his lines, I’m not sure). Sadly, the writers haven’t exploited Baker’s beefcake potential by inserting an obligatory shag-with-a-colleague-on-the-boardroom-table scene, or even getting him into the shower.

If lawyer dramas speak to our generational ideals about the legal system – long haired 70s liberalism in The Paper Chase, hard-nosed 80s bitchery in L.A. Law, 90s feminist crisis in Ally McBeal – then Nick is our legal icon for the new millennium – a cute fallen angel, who’s unsure whether he’s a porn star, a prophet or a priest.

Bring it on, TVNZ. And for the moment, could someone please try to get Nick to come to work shirtless?

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