In 1961, CBS premiered a show called "The Defenders" that starred E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father-and-son lawyers tackling big-issue cases of the day — abortion, euthanasia, censorship — through exquisite understanding of the law. On its website, the Museum of Broadcast Communications describes it as perhaps the most socially conscious series the medium has ever seen.
Almost 50 years later, CBS is introducing another show called "The Defenders," which stars Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell as a father-and-son-like team of Vegas lawyers who, when not struggling with, respectively, an ugly divorce and a penchant for fly-by sex, take on kind of tough cases and use cheap showmanship and contrived last-minute breaks to win them.
It's enough to make a grown TV critic cry.
This version of "The Defenders," created by Kevin Kennedy and Niels Mueller, follows the firm of Morelli (Belushi) & Kaczmarek (O'Connell), two tough-guy lawyers of the type who advertise on billboards, represent porn stars and hire young associates who put themselves through law school stripping.
So, you know, the big issues of the day.
There's actually no reason this couldn't be a perfectly fine legal procedural, except there's no indication that anyone is attempting to make it one. The script is strictly writing by numbers — Morelli has his ex-wife followed because he misses her and his son and, meanwhile, Kaczmarek sleeps with flight attendants and prosecutors alike in a desperate attempt to be some sort of play-uh.
Their case involves defending a scruffy youth who accidentally shot a high school football player who was among a gang attacking his brother (and we all know that high school football players involved in any group activity other than football are bad news). There's a snotty prosecutor and an uptight judge for Morelli to "outsmart," with much more help from the stripper turned lawyer than his partner. There's a familial spat at a kids' baseball game and an I-don't-like-you-much sex scene — in other words, nothing we all haven't seen before, with nary a character or line of dialogue that's meaningful or memorable.
Let this be a lesson to us all: If you go to the trouble of creating an iconic TV show, legally protect the title.