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STUDIO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 263 minutes
“It’s a lot like meeting someone new, being initially alienated by their behaviors, gradually learning that there is a depth behind their foibles, and then seeing them get run over by a Wal-Mart delivery truck.”
Julianna Margulies, Aidan Quinn, Ben Shenkman, Keith Robinson, Trieste Kelly Dunn.
Elizabeth Canterbury does not speak Old English. No, English majors, she is an attorney, and a damn good one at that. Over a series of six episodes, she proves in the courtroom her devotion to justice and her distaste for all things egomaniacal. She also turns out to be a pretty good detective, and isn’t above bending the law every so often. After all, who says law and justice equatable?
Hang on, I saw this in another law show, once.
If I were an unethical critic, I would have written off Canterbury’s Law after the first episode as yet another courtroom drama in which the lawyers do the work of the detectives. The pilot has a decent mystery, and sparks a couple of intriguing subplots, but by the time its credits roll it seems like just another perversion of justice for the sake of telling an average yarn. Attorneys fighting crime, taking the law into their own hands! Granted, usually it’s the prosecutors that get to dress up as Justice, but the little fact that Margulies’ Canterbury is a defense attorney doesn’t much interfere with the stereotype, especially given that she uncovers the true murderer in the pilot.
And then the show keeps going. There is fallout from Canterbury’s well-intentioned taking of the law into her own hands. The subplots ripen. The individual cases of the week that backbone each episode become supporting details, instead of central plot. Canterbury’s life becomes the issue of importance. Her work doesn’t get in its way, as often happens in dramas about dedicated folks; her work and her life are inextricable.
By the end of the second episode, I was hooked. What I had initially identified as subplots were actually the first hints at a compelling ethical debate which stretches for most of this truncated series. Margulies bent the law in the pilot in order to get an acquittal for her client. She took the easy way, after all the hard ones had been closed off. She took an unpopular client — media- and jury-wise — and got him off the hook, rightfully, with good old-fashioned deceit.
But where this might be played up like a victory in a show more along the cynical lines of, say, House, here it’s exposed as a failing, something of which Canterbury is neither proud or forthcoming. She wants very much to believe that the ends justify the means, as the show develops over its brief span, but she doesn’t have much more than the words committed to heart.
It’s a simple origin point for conflict, but its branching resolutions spread out quickly and cover a lot of ground. I’m impressed with how much character the production was able to give Elizabeth in such a short running time. A tragic (but familiar) backstory gives her the cool glare of a hunter; a disintegrating marriage gives her the solitude and patience to wait out anything that might be hiding from her. Margulies plays Elizabeth as hungry, confident, and haunted, all at once.
Much like this man.
Unfortunately, the show didn’t last long enough to allow for anything other than these first (revised) impressions. There are six episodes on this disc. The first five concern Elizabeth, her failing marriage, and the investigation into her alleged jury tampering. Meaty stuff, but abandoned without satisfaction. Elizabeth’s nemesis in the DA’s office resolves the whole shebang with a simple out-of-court settlement, after his own unethical behavior is uncovered by Canterbury’s team. Five episodes of build-up, and about three minutes to tie it up. Then, in the sixth episode, Elizabeth gets a brand new nemesis in the form of a right-wing talk radio host.
OK, I thought. That particular plot got cut down in its prime, but this one has some potential, too. And… Cut! With intimations of a throwdown in the future against this self-righteous media hawk, the series ends. That’s that. Six episodes, only. I wish that the showrunners would have given the sixth episode to a better resolution for the jury tampering charges, honestly. That would have made that particular plot more satisfying, and wouldn’t have left me with an indescribable desire to see Rush Limbaugh given a magical smackdown by Morgaine.
“Verbal lashing” ain’t just a metaphor, son.
This box set is a decent way to pass the time, but as a result of being hacked off at the knees it frustrates almost as much as it entertains. From the too-quick resolution of subplots to the too-soon termination of the show, Canterbury’s Law is short and bitter, but good while it lasts.
Hey, the show’s dead, why bother putting any bonuses in the set?