Should I Watch Harry's Law?

Slate's Culture Blog
March 22 2011 12:06 PM

Should I Watch Harry's Law?

What is it?
Harry's Law is David E. Kelley's latest legal drama. Kathy Bates plays Harriet Korn, a late-career corporate attorney who is fired from her cushy job practicing patent law and decides to open a law firm in a poor, gang-infested neighborhood of Cincinnati.

You'll like it if NPR is too right-wing for your tastes.
Heck, some episodes are probably too radical for fans of Democracy Now. The firm helps residents of the 'hood, people who, as the scriptwriters like to remind us, are often ignored by the legal, medical, and educational establishment. Harry and Adam, the firm's junior attorney, defend gang members, impoverished octogenarian armed robbers, obese fast-food addicts, disturbed war veterans, and the like, including, on one memorable occasion, a group of asylum-seeking Tanzanian albinos. (It was sweeps month.) One viewer recently complained to TV Guide that the show's "political grandstanding and preaching about social conscience is not appropriate." In the weeks that followed, other letter-writers rushed to Kelley's defense.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 


You won't like it if you prefer accurate portrayals of the legal system.
The offenses against legal procedure go much further than the typical legal drama's disregard for the rules of evidence. In the show's brief run, Harry has repeatedly asked judges to ignore the statute books because the letter of the law just didn't feel right. A typical pleading: "I could be wrong, but sometimes a judge gets to make a ruling not because it's necessarily supported by the law, [but] because she feels in her gut that it's the right thing to do." Somehow, Harry always gets her way.

You'll like it if you enjoy David E. Kelley's goofy brand of soapbox-pounding.
If you've watched any of Kelley's earlier series, Harry's Law will seem familiar. There's the truth-telling, sometimes ditsy receptionist; a milquetoast youngster (here played by the oddly charming Nate Corddry) who learns from a gruff older mentor; a buffoon with a heart of gold (Christopher McDonald as publicity-seeking plaintiff's attorney Tommy Jefferson); and a quirky physical plantHarry's law office also doubles as a shoe store.

You won't like it if you're hoping to see Kathy Bates at her finest.
As a long-time Bates fan (an Oscar winner who spends her summers traveling the country in an RVwhat's not to love?), it pains me to admit that she's not at her best here. Her performance is surprisingly low-energy and gloomy; half the time it feels like she's hoping Harry will be disbarred.

Bottom line:
It's a dumbed-down, cleaned-up, network TV version of The Wire. But while it may be hokey and predictable, it's still refreshing to see a prime-time show that focuses on the problems of America's poor. It's also a great showcase for some young African-American actors. Yes, most of them play gang members or drug dealers, but as Harry once told a judge, "People do what they do to survive sometimes, and in the process they make bad decisions."

Should I Watch ... is an occasional "Brow Beat"series intended to help Slate readers broaden their TV-viewing habits.

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