Doubt. CBS. Wednesday, February 15, 10 p.m.
Now that Shonda Rimes’ production company ShondaLand has completely engulfed and devoured ABC, the rest of television has been waiting to see who would be the next hapless, helpless mouse in the python’s ruthless jaws. Now we know: ShondaLand will soon be sucking the video marrow from the crushed bones of CBS as the ghosts of Walter Cronkite and Jed Clampett shriek from their basement refuge.
Sure, technically speaking, CBS’ new legal drama Doubt is not a ShondaLand production. But series co-creators Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, between them, have logged 14 years on the ShondaLand juggernaut Grey’s Anatomy, and star Katherine Heigl is its prodigal daughter, returned to TV after frittering away her Grey’s stardom in the whorish, un-Shondaized world of film. So go ahead, CBS, keep shouting that it’s not Shonda until the only thing we can see of you is your toes frantically wiggling as they slide down the python’s gullet.
That all said, you can do a lot worse in television than ShondaLand, as CBS has spent decades proving with its endless parade of CSI and NCIS clones. Doubt has its interesting moments, and Heigl, despite her recent run of box-office disasters (seriously, excluding people who accidentally walked into the wrong theater, is there anybody who saw One for the Money?) remains a capable and appealing actress.
Format-wise, Doubt doesn’t differ much from any legal drama made since the days of L.A. Law. You’ve got a nobly idealistic transgender lawyer (transgender actress Laverne Cox, Orange Is The New Black), a quirky lawyer who got his degree while in prison (Kobi Libii, Madame Secretary), a cold-bloodedly pragmatic lawyer (Dule Hill, Psych), and an ambitious young lawyer (Dreama Walker, Gossip Girl).
The firm is bookended by Isaiah Roth (Elliott Gould), an aging ’60s radical who still gets jailed for contempt a couple of times a week for screaming “Fascist!” at judges, and Heigl as Sadie Ellis, whose impressive legal skills do not include keeping her emotions in check.
The relationship between Isaiah and Sadie is much more complicated than it first appears. And it’s complicated by the fact that she’s falling for a client (Steven Pasquale, Rescue Me)—a do-gooder pediatric surgeon accused of killing his college girlfriend 24 years ago when they were teenagers—despite growing evidence that he might be guilty. Sadie’s blithe confidence that nice people don’t do bad things worries Isaiah, whose political commitment led him into a similar mistake with another client several decades ago, at great and continuing cost.
The conflict between idealism and reality runs through Doubt like a bright thread, sometimes restated in explicitly political terms. Sometimes the firm’s lawyers seem to be giving their clients short shrift in deference to dubious leftist shibboleths about community. Is “snitching” really the word for testifying against a gang-banger murderer?
That piquant political dilemma, coupled with the increasingly jagged story line of Sadie’s dubious romance, keep Doubt more watchable than it probably has a right to be. And what’s the use of arguing, anyway? Forget it, Jake, it’s ShondaLand.