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New TV: "Outlaw"

By admin Published: September 15, 2010

The series starring Jimmy Smits gets a special showing of the pilot tonight, when it can have an "America's Got Talent" finale as a lead-in. ("Parenthood" was given the same boost last night.) The pilot will then be repeated on Friday, in the series' customary time slot. I have posted my review from Sunday's Beacon Journal below, but I want to expand on a point it makes.

That is, television is very much a character-driven medium. Even a plot-heavy show like "Lost" depended tremendously on our attachment to the characters or to the actors who play them. One reason I want to see more of "Detroit 1-8-7," another series with some evident flaws, is Michael Imperioli's character and performance are good. I'll watch "Raising Hope" more because of Martha Plimpton's character, and "Hawaii Five-O" because Scott Caan is a charismatic Danno -- far more interesting than Alex O'Loughlin's McGarrett.

That should explain why my review of "Outlaw" is kinder than some others you will see. (Example: This from my friend Maureen Ryan of AOL TV.) But Ryan acknowledged the power of stars and characters over some viewers when she posted on Facebook: "Finishing up my list of Outlaw's Crimes Against Television. Posts Weds. My mom gets so mad when I rip on Jimmy Smits shows. Sorry mom."

Like Ryan's mom, I alike Jimmy Smits a great deal, and I bought into this character because of his performance. If we look at the show just in terms of narrative, it has flaws, as I note in passing in the review. But I am still going to give it at least one more viewing.

Anyway, my review is after the jump.

From Sunday's Beacon Journal:

Jimmy Smits has been a TV star for close to 25 years. He swaggered into viewers' consciousness as lawyer Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law in 1986 -- and won an Emmy for the role a few years later. When N.Y.P.D. Blue needed a successor to the formidable (and mercurial) David Caruso, it was Smits as Bobby Simone who filled the bill, as well as being part of one of the great death-bed scenes in TV history. Similarly, when The West Wing needed a dramatic presence ` and future president ` who would be a match for the formidable Alan Alda, it was Smits who was brought in, as Matt Santos.

There have been other roles, but those three especially show why Smits is so important to Outlaw, the NBC series getting a preview at 10 p.m. Wednesday (where it will have America's Got Talent's results finale as the lead-in) before moving into its regular time slot at 10 p.m. Friday.

It's important that the audience bring both some respect for and a willingness to like Cyrus Garza, Smits' character. The man is smart but arrogant, honorable but with demons, sexist but still able to recognize smart women ` and having Smits on board makes it possible to recognize his flaws without being overwhelmed by them. And, at the end of the first episode, it's Smits who will make you come back for more.

The show's twist is that Garza, a very conservative Supreme Court justice, quits to take on lost causes as a practicing attorney. His belief in his conservatism has been shaken by the death of his liberal-activist father. In addition, he loves action -- including all kinds of gambling -- and being on the bench has felt too smothering. So, with a team of associates, he dives back into the fray, starting with a death-penalty case brought to him while he's still on the Supreme Court.

I can't say that I bought into the case very much, and especially the twists it takes along the way. (It feels as if the show's makers saw The Verdict more than once.) And the premiere sets in motion subplots -- Garza has enemies -- that only distract from the main part of the case. The supporting cast, which includes Jesse Bradford, Carly Pope, David Ramsey and Ellen Woglom, is a mixed lot; Ramsey is good and Woglom gets a couple of decent moments, but Bradford's stuck with a stereotypical character and I've never been a fan of Pope.

Still, I will be back for more. And I will be back in large measure because Garza is an interesting guy, and Smits is playing him. There's a scene late in the premiere that on paper would seem implausible; Smits makes it work.

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