I was a huge fan of John Grisham's The Firm back when it was just a novel, and I even enjoyed the Tom Cruise movie adaptation. But when I heard that NBC was making a television series, I balked. I wasn't sure why the entire story needed to be retold in another format.
Except that the series, aptly titled The Firm, isn't another copy. Rather it's merely the next chapter for main character and defense attorney Mitch McDeere and the rest of his family.
The backstory is quickly explained with a few sentences about Mitch working for the firm, Bendini, Lambert & Locke, and how he helped the FBI bring it down because of money laundering for the mob. Of course, placing a mob leader in jail is a sure fire way to get yourself killed, but that's what witness protection is for. I recognize that this all may be a bit confusing to a viewer who hasn't delved into Grisham's pages or watched the film, but the basic recognition of "dealing with the mob means potential danger at every turn" is an easy enough concept to grasp.
The rest of the two-hour premiere - summed up in two episodes, the "pilot" and "Chapter Two" - revealed the set up of Mitch's new life 10 years later. Seriously, how bad is this guy at picking employers?!? Six weeks after we first meet him, Mitch has the revelation that a case he is working on is not all it seems.
Yes, Mitch. It is happening again. Death and conspiracy are back.
The show showed its ambition in depicting three separate cases, all of relative important, especially because they meant the viewer had to pay attention to which one Mitch might be working on at various times. It also meant that the larger story required those smaller ones to intertwine and push everything forward, while giving the characters a chance to be something more than moving scenery to the plot.
Like any regular law procedural, there was something of an open and closed case. This particular one involved Mitch defending a boy who killed a classmate. Interestingly enough, the boy was guilty, but the way he went about defending him worked in providing some morality for his character. Sure, Mitch admits that he defends bad guys, but in terms of this case, he at least wanted to give the kid the best possible outcome. If anything, Mitch truly believes in the justice system.
Those strong convictions were continued in his other case, which concerned a woman who was nearly killed due to defective medical equipment. He not only refused a bribe, but he was determined to win and destroy the company that made the faulty piece.
The episode sets up Mitch as the scrappy hero who has plenty of experience and willingness to go up against whatever big corporation or conspiracy is thrown at him. Surprisingly, that means that he continues to use his real last name, which is either really bold or really stupid. Although, believing that the mob boss who wanted him dead was finally dead himself makes sense... but did he really think it would all be over? I guess that same reasoning must be what leads him to another shady firm with its own dark secrets. He figured there was no way lighting could strike twice.
But, really, as much as the guy manages to find himself just jumping in the water with another huge problem waiting in the deep, isn't that why we tune in? We knew it couldn't be just a friendly firm and we want to see Mitch overcome all the extreme odds for a satisfying victory.
Thankfully, the cast is fantastic. While Josh Lucas is not a carbon copy of Tom Cruise, he clearly makes Mitch his own character, someone the audience can enjoy. Callum Keith Rennie plays his brother, Ray, and brings a rough around the edges charm to each scene.
Julliette Lewis, only given a few moments here, portrays Tammy with charisma and a fun attitude. And while I've always had a hard time in general watching main characters' wives whine and complain and try to force their husband not to do what he wants, Molly Parker gives Abby McDeere more of a loving and worried concern for her husband and family than an obnoxious nag. Her initial reluctance is warranted and when she agrees to let Mitch join the new firm, it isn't gung ho and against her calm nature.
Finally, Tricia Helfer is sure to bring a blunt attitude each week to Alex Clark, providing Mitch with plenty to combat without yet knowing all the dark and shady problems that surround her and the firm.
I loved the cinematic aspects of the premiere, from the sweeping shots of DC to its ability to feel like a complete film and story, even as it was preparing plenty of larger stories for the whole season. And while the time-jumping could be a bit confusing (I hope they don't rely on that too much for future episodes), it was a great way to bookend the two hours and prepare viewers for the intensity to come.
So, while not anything wildly new on the story front, The Firm did succeed in its endeavors to provide a compelling and fast-paced plot that introduced characters you want to watch. And although Mitch may never want to work for a law firm again when this is all over, I'm excited to see how he and the rest of his family come out on top.
After all, who doesn't love an underdog fighting for truth and justice?
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.