"Made in Jersey" on CBS features Erin Cummings, left, Janet… (David Lee, Associated Press )
As schematic and derivative as it is, as invested in piling on the feel-good moments past the point even of suspended disbelief, there is something quite likable about "Made in Jersey," a light new legal drama — "dramette," if you will — that premieres Friday on CBS.
Created by Dana Calvo (a former writer on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and a former reporter for this paper), it stars Janet Montgomery as Martina Garretti, a scrappy, street-smart, New Jersey-bred attorney making her way in a high-powered Manhattan law firm. (Montgomery is British, but you wouldn't know it without already knowing it.) It's a kind of blend of "Working Girl," the old Melanie Griffith movie turned Sandra Bullock TV series — yes, that happened — and "The Good Wife," with a more than passing resemblance to "Ugly Betty."
I don't know that it's intentionally a "woman's show," but it is certainly a show full of women and about women and it fits within a CBS Friday-night tradition that has included "Providence," "Joan of Arcadia," "Ghost Whisperer," "Close to Home" and (new Orange County Real Housewife) Heather Paige Kent's similarly aspirational "Get a Life."
For the Record: In the Sept. 28 Calendar section, a review of the TV series "Made in Jersey" included "Providence" in a list of shows that had aired on CBS. "Providence" ran on NBC.
We meet Martina, in a red blazer, tight skirt and semi-big hair, carrying a takeout tray full of coffee through the streets of New York — only to see her deliver it to her own secretary (Toni Trucks), as a favor, to bring to other lawyers. And you thought she was just some gofer. Snap!
Many wonderful things happen to her or happen because of her, in the space of the pilot, as her quality is recognized by allies and adversaries alike. Oddball boss Kyle MacLachlan — maybe not written as oddball, but it is Kyle MacLachlan — is in the former. Inevitably, icily blond colleague Stephanie March, who says things like "You speak fluent townie" and makes a "Real Housewives" crack about Martina's sister, heads the latter.
"That's only funny," Martina responds, "because my sister would love to be a housewife, but she's a single mom who works full time."
Acknowledgment of class remains oddly uncommon in modern scripted TV, but "Made in Jersey" goes continually to that point. Martina's Ivy League, power-suit-clad colleagues betray their ignorance of how the other half (or 47%) lives, and she makes headway from knowing how they do. She points out that a pair of pliers is not a murder weapon but what girls use to zip up tight jeans, and that the pristine state of a suspect's fingernails show that she couldn't have been the killer since "there's no growth in the nail bed and her shellac still has first-day sheen."
Although Martina and her family — Broadway legend Donna Murphy plays her very involved mother — are colorful, they're not caricatures. There is a nice, noisy energy when they're together that reminds me of actual working-to-middle-class New Jersey Italians I have known; I found their company pleasant. In these and other scenes the show can be manipulative, but I don't mind manipulation when it works; I believed enough of it.
'Made in Jersey'
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Rating: TV-PG-D (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for suggestive dialogue)