Thursday, May 26, 2022

The perfectly average TV show we need

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As a TV critic, I watch a lot of TV shows. Hundreds of them.

I watch expensive fantasy epics, gritty dramas, YA romances, Emmy bait, network sitcoms, true-crime documentaries and everything in-between. But sometimes you just want to sit back, relax, and see a good lawyer destroy his opposition in a swanky Los Angeles court.

The meat-and-potatoes legal drama, long a stalwart of broadcast television with series like “Law & Order,” “The Practice” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” has comes to Netflix with “The Lincoln Lawyer” (streaming now, ★★★ out of four), a new adaptation of Michael Connelly’s books created by David E. Kelley and Ted Humphrey. There’s a comfort to the series, which exists in a universe with well-defined morals and beautiful people. It’s a slickly-acted, fast-moving, winning series that isn’t overly ambitious and doesn’t need to be. Its appeal comes from being something familiar done very well, and it’s the kind of series Netflix should be making all the time.

Previously brought to the screen in a 2011 film starring Matthew McConaughey, “Lincoln” follows Mickey Haller (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a defense attorney known for eschewing an office in favor of he backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln (a town car in the original books, but now updated to a swanky SUV). Mickey has been out of the law game for a year after a near-fatal surfing accident that left him with an opioid addiction. He’s forced back into practicing when another defense attorney is murdered and will Mickey his entire practice, including the murder trial of a tech CEO (Christopher Gorham) that might just be the biggest case of Mickey’s career.

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Mickey employs his second ex-wife and legal assistant Lorna (Becki Newton), Cisco investigator (Angus Sampson) and driver Izzy (Jazz Raycole) to help him scrounge up clients as he scrambles to get his legal mojo back. He’s also trying to win back the trust and love of his daughter Hayley (Krista Warner) and first wife Maggie (Neve Campbell), a prosecutor.

Neve Campbell as Maggie McPherson, Mickey's first ex-wife and a prosecutor.

“Lincoln” is so pleasing in its unpretentiousness. It’s not trying to answer big questions, besides whether Mickey’s biggest client is innocent. Garcia-Rulfo is a bit stiff at first as the charismatic lawyer, but he quickly grows on you as he gets more comfortable and Mickey reveals more about himself. In the series’ climactic courtroom speeches, it’s clear how Garcia-Rulfo nabbed the part. With jokes, sly smiles and a gift for oration, this version of Mickey can win over any jury. The dialogue is sharp and witty, just like co-creator Kelley’s other iconic legal series such as NBC’s “The Practice” or Fox’s “Ally McBeal.”

The series is certainly not perfect. The emotional stakes for the subplots could be better laid out, particularly in a human-trafficking case Maggie is trying. Lorna seems less like Mickey’s ex-wife and more like a sister. A few episodes lag when the plot shifts away from small cases and Mickey focuses exclusively on his big murder trial.

But still, “Lincoln” is very entertaining, and that’s all we can ask of it. Netflix is ​​in the midst of a crisis after reporting its first subscriber loss (200,000) this year, and will soon be changing up its so far tried-and-true strategy for new shows. “Lincoln” is exactly the kind of series that has been lacking on the streamer, which already has a lot of expensive, effects-heavy genre pieces such as “Stranger Things” or A-list prestige fare like “Ozark.” “Lincoln” falls somewhere in the middle – cost-wise and star-power-wise – but its quality isn’t really diminished as a midrange show.

Goldilocks always went after the option in the middle. After a long day, a nice episode of “The Lincoln Lawyer” feels just right.

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