A death row convict is days away from being sent to the death chamber; he needs a miracle. His diligent lawyer files a Hail Mary petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and that convict’s life falls into the hands of a womanizing gambler who just so happens to be the youngest and most conservative justice on the high court. His name is Cyrus Garza and he is played by TV icon, Jimmy Smits. So begins the improbable new series, Outlaw.
How improbable? In the opening scenes, Garza is kicked out of a casino and met in the parking lot by protesters trying to sway his decision, as well as a gorgeous liberal journalist whom he debates with, right there, in the parking lot, for about five minutes. As their argument gets more heated and she tells him that his dead father would’ve been disappointed him, he then comes on to her. Sure enough, in the next scene that reporter is sleeping in Garza’s bed after sex. The Justice, meanwhile, is watching a Dateline news report on his deceased father, a beloved 60’s activist who died in the same car accident that nearly killed Garza.
Watching the old new footage and digging a little deeper into the case of the convict (played quite nicely by rapper RZA), Garza is inspired to rule for a stay in the execution. This pisses off a lot of conservatives, who threaten to impeach him for bad behavior (besides the rotating door of beautiful women who can’t resist him, he also has a huge gambling problem). But Garza beats them to the punch and steps down from the Supreme Court.
Let’s keep score. Improbability 2. Reality 0.
What’s a retired Supreme Court Justice to do to? Why, go to work at a prestigious law firm where he gets paid as much as the senior partners and he receives carte blanche, of course! Garza wants to make a difference again; he wants to bring justice back to the courtrooms! Cue the swelling music! He brings along his two clerks from the high court, Eddie (Jesse Bradford), an uptight, very conservative task master, and Mareta (Ellen Woglom), a pretty, young liberal elitist. Garza also convinces the lawyer from the death row case (played by David Ramsey) to come work with him. No lawyer show would be complete without a wisecracking bi-sexual private investigator who loves to flirt, so Outlaw has Lucinda, played by Carly Pope.
A series like Outlaw obviously used its high concept to get made and to spark the interest of viewers. It’s a similar tactic incorporated by the Julianna Margulies drama, The Good Wife, a year ago. Similarly, both shows cast a high profile/recognizable actor in the lead and catered the roles to their strengths. In Garza, Jimmy Smits gets to hang loose and put on a display of swagger and charisma that is reminiscent of his popular Victor Sifuentes character from the 80’s hit, L.A. Law. While he’s obviously the lead, the producers have surrounded him with a cast of good looking, young actors to keep the show fresh.
What isn’t fresh is the writing. So much of what comes out of Garza’s mouth is clichéd and so much of the plot seemed obvious right from the start. Convict up for murder whose going to be set free? Check. Forced sexual tension between the uptight guy and the bi-sexual mouthy chick? Check. Shady characters following Garza? Check.
The only reason to tune into Outlaw at this juncture is Smits. He has such screen presence and can make any ridiculous line of dialogue sound like poetry (see Star Wars, the prequels) that he’s a joy to watch. That’s why he’s a star. The fact that Outlaw has been relegated to Friday nights may mean that NBC will stick with the show and possibly let it get stronger. For Smits’ sake, for the viewers’ sake, and damn it, for justice’s sake, let’s hope so.