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The mother of all dedicated attorneys

October 04, 2005|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

"Close to Home," which premieres tonight on CBS, begins with slow-motion footage of paperboys riding through a perfect, color-saturated upper-middle-class suburb, footage that in another sort of picture would signal the imminent explosion of an atomic bomb.

Here the damage is more localized, though the same sort of contrast is intended: A house goes up in flames; firefighters break through a window to rescue a woman and her children, drenching the house with their big hoses as we cut to scenes of Annabeth Chase, played by Jennifer Finnigan, bathing her baby. It has the look of a music video or Nike ad, and it is no surprise to find that this neighborhood, where all is not as pleasant as it seems, is under the influence of Jerry Bruckheimer.

The woman in the burning house will be charged with child endangerment and several other things I neglected to write down -- there are some not-too-shocking twists here that I won't relate -- and her case will be the first order of business for Annabeth when she returns to work from her maternity leave. Finding that Maureen, a colleague she considers her inferior (Kimberly Elise, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"), has been promoted above her, she complains to her boss (John Carroll Lynch, "The Drew Carey Show"), who tells her she can't have everything, which is exactly what she wants, and exactly what she'll get to have, being the heroine of this story. "I want to be a mommy and I want work -- I want everything," she tells hunky husband Christian Kane ("Angel"), whom the CBS website describes as "a rock for her to lean on when the challenges of her job start to infringe on their home life." Yes, she's got one of those too.

Finnigan is tough but vulnerable -- petite, more delicately featured than your typical Bruckheimer heroine. Though she glows like a Renaissance Madonna, she's also the least appealing character here, the one you aren't compelled to know, or to want to know more about. I can't feel for her -- I don't even believe it's her baby, or her husband. (She is quite convincing as a prosecutor, however.) But she isn't helped by a production that tends to make everything look artificial, that freezes the air between the characters and keeps them distant. (Interestingly, it's the courtroom scenes that are the most warmly lighted.)

A breast pump is a novel prop for a legal drama, I'll grant you, as are breast milk in the office fridge and crying jags in the women's bathroom, location of choice for confrontations between Annabeth and Maureen, who tells her, "You have got to stop making decisions with your hormones or your emotions or whatever it is you're not thinking with." The possibility that she might make an actual bad decision -- as people do when they're overtired and stressed out and chemically imbalanced -- is an interesting one that will perhaps be explored in some coming episode. For now, she gets to keep not only "that perfect little conviction rate you're so proud of," as Maureen archly puts it, but her own perfect convictions. The smile she wears, as she glides from the judge's chambers in tonight's climactic moments, having cowed slick opposing counsel Bruce Davison, is a smile not only of satisfaction but of self-satisfaction. But it's a saintly sort of self-satisfaction. Even if we are meant to see her, in a small way, as hubristic, aggressive and a little out of control, in the end she will be proved right, and those who mock her, wrong.


`Close to Home'

Where: CBS

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Ratings: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language)

Jennifer Finnigan...Annabeth Chase

Kimberly Elise... Maureen Scofield

John Carroll Lynch...Steve Sharpe

Christian Kane...Jack Chase

Executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman and Jim Leonard. Writer Jim Leonard. Director Simon West.

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