Judge Christopher Kulik guards the magical realm of Novehippo.
"The law doesn't leave a lot of room for the way people feel."
In 2001, CBS introduced the legal drama The Guardian on Tuesday nights after JAG. Corporate attorney Nicholas Fallin (Simon Baker, The Devil Wears Prada) works for his wealthy father's law firm in Pittsburgh. One day, the high life gets the better of Nick, and he's busted for drugs. Now, he must serve 1500 hours of community service working as a child advocate at the congested and underfunded offices of Legal Aid. At first, supervisor Alvin Masterson (Alan Rosenberg, Cybill) detests Nick's quiet attitude towards the work, which includes branching off to do his own investigations rather than simply serving his clients.
Nick, who's unmarried and has no children, finds many of his clients a challenge, especially when there is no money involved. Soon Nick finds himself emotionally invested in the lives of his clients, particularly when he acquires a female boss in Lulu (Wendy Moniz, Nash Bridges). Other characters include Jake Straka (Raphael Sbarge, Prison Break) as a fellow hotshot lawyer working for Nick's father Burton (Dabney Coleman, You've Got Mail); fellow child advocate James Mooney (Charles Malik Whitfield, Notorious); and stern counselor Laurie Solt (Kathleen Shalfant, Duplicity).
Shows about the law and criminal investigation have been winning TV fodder since the introduction of the medium. Today, the boob tube is dominated by reality shows and countless spinoffs of CSI and Law And Order. Hell, there are cable stations devoted to showing nothing but investigative series, both real and scripted. As with many shows of this nature, The Guardian has high production values and a lot of class. Unfortunately, it's swimming in storylines which have been overly mined in other legal dramas. While very little here is surprising, the show managed to achieve a certain level of interest, earning itself a three-year run.
Each episode is devoted to at least two cases—one at Burton's firm and the other at Legal Aid. Sometimes the cases would overlap or flip flop each other, and it's to the writers credit that these episodes never became too convoluted. Nick is the consummate professional, but sometimes his faults would compromise his work. Whenever his mother (who died when he was 12) is mentioned, he seems to crack at the seams, having never forgiven his father for walking out on her. Up until he worked for Legal Aid, he had been motivated by money and masterminding ways of winning cases. His community service opens him up emotionally. One of the series' best episodes is "Heart," about a 12-year-old girl who was given up by her parents due to her expensive medical needs, including a heart transplant. Nick likes her vivacity so much he insists on becoming her legal guardian!
The key to The Guardian's success is Simon Baker. The actor has gotten a lot of notice recently for his work on The Mentalist, but I've liked him in practically every role since his debut in L.A. Confidential. Baker is handsome, enigmatic, and always compelling. The refreshing thing about this character (based on creator David Hollander's brother) is that he's painted in shades of grey. When we meet him in the pilot, he's easy to dislike, and yet you're curious to see how he changes over the course of the show. He can be cold and cynical in one moment and vulnerable the next, especially when it concerns the estranged relationship he shares with his father. Adding to the dramatic flair is the great Dabney Coleman, who's never been more laid-back and ingratiating as he is here.
Unfortunately, after getting through all 22 episodes, the show lacks creative juice. It's professionally done and believably played, but none of it is memorable. I'm not sure if I want to devote myself to another season, even with Baker and Coleman's commanding performances.
Paramount's treatment of the show on DVD is lukewarm. On one hand, every episode is exceptionally clean in their anamorphic transfers. Flesh tones are warm, black levels are deep. On the audio front, we get the standard 2.0 stereo track. The Guardian filmed some exteriors the streets of Pittsburgh, and the traffic noise and environmental sounds are all quite natural. Background music and conversation never affects the dialogue. Closed captioning is provided, but no other subtitles. There are no extras, even though the packaging boasts three "launch promos." An interview with Simon Baker or showrunner David Hollander would have been nice. Sadly, Paramount goes the bare-bones route.
The Guardian is a near-good show with excellent actors. Whether you like it or not will depend on how much you dig legal dramas. Not guilty!
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