The Deep End is a shiny take on life at a white-shoe law firm.

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Jan. 20 2010 6:39 PM

Nice Teeth

The Deep End is a shiny take on life at a white-shoe law firm.

The Deep End
The Deep End

Clothes make the man and the woman and even the put-upon mice running mazes at a big scary law firm on The Deep End (ABC, Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET), a show so thoroughly formulaic that you can learn all there is to know about its characters solely from sartorial (and tonsorial) cues.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Playing a heartless managing partner known to underlings as "the Prince of Darkness," Billy Zane, balder than Dr. Evil, wears a flat-fold pocket square with a crease sharp enough to slit an opposing counsel's throat. His wife (Nicole Ari Parker), who is also the head of the litigation department, wears skirts so tight they would make Amanda Woodward blush, and thus does the wardrobe signal that she's a hard-ass. As a delightfully skeevy associate named Rowdy, stage actor Norbert Leo Butz sports a Full Windsor bespeaking fulsome pomposity and a bespoke suit that could swagger on its hanger all by itself.

Then we have the four first-year associates, whose anxieties motor the pilot episode. We know that Liam (Ben Lawson)—an Australian with an Oxbridge education—is the resident rake because he is introduced with his pants around his ankles, in flagrante delicto cum secretariam. The terminally boyish sincerity and Ivy League scholarship diligence of hero Dylan (Matt Long) are evident from the fact that he's the only guy on-screen wearing a button-down collar.

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And the women? Both the meek Midwestern brunette (Tina Majorino) and the assured hot blond chick who is secretly vulnerable beneath her hot blond assuredness (Leah Pipes) go in for blouses with very short sleeves—as do both the paralegal with the pre-Raphaelite red hair and the secretary helping Liam with his briefs. Just as most every chickadee on a daytime soap opera most always wears a tank top, the young women of The Deep End show off their deltoids in cap sleeves and flutter sleeves and enough darling little gathered sleeves to fill Zooey Deschanel's walk-in closet. Cute.

The show indulges poetic license in its portrayal of life at a white-shoe law firm. The pilot picks up with Liam enjoying, or failing to enjoy, his very first day in the office after law school, never having been seduced by the heaping free lunches and copious free time that characterize, or at least used to characterize, summer-associate programs. Then, on about his second day, he represents a client in court all by his lonesome. And I do hope that no one beyond Amanda Woodward really ever belts out, "My office!"—though such utterances do go a long way toward conjuring a realistic climate of fear.

These fudges and fancies are merely venial sins. What really galls is the fact that so many of these legal eagles spend so much time wrestling with their consciences, as if they hadn't put those in trust for their grandkids on accepting their signing bonuses. This is true even of Rowdy, whose head-bobbing, frat-seasoned, neo-Napoleonic arrogance is the most compelling thing on-screen: "I've said a lot of things, most of which of have been motivated by my love of cashmere and corn liquor, but every man has come-to-Jesus moment." This leaves Zane's character, his deep eyes brimming with contempt, picking up a lot of slack when it comes to over-the-top amorality. "Screw firefighters with cancer," he says and really means.

Do not hold your breath waiting for Dylan—"a Boy Scout with a savior complex"—to yield to any come-to-Mammon temptations. He'll risk everything to win his first case, a pro bono deal that finds him representing an overworked single mother in danger of losing custody. ("You are my only hope.") It is a time-honored tradition of pilot episodes of legal dramas that attorneys like Dylan take cases like this, but The Deep End distinguishes itself by giving us a case more ludicrous than usual. Moreover, when Dylan sits down on the boardroom floor for a heart-to-heart with the crayon-scribbling child in question, the kid proves so tiresomely squeaky as to make you wonder why anyone would want custody of him in the first place. Naturally, Dylan wins the case, and he and his colleagues go out for victory shots—another inaccuracy. In my experience, when these 80-hours-a-week drones years get away from their desks, they drown their sorrows by the bottleful.

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