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John Grisham's The Client

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Based on its pilot episode, John Grisham’s The Client seemed pretty hapless to me: a weak rip-off of the 1994 film version of Grisham’s novel right down to the kid-in-jeopardy plot. JoBeth Williams (in the Susan Sarandon role of lawyer Reggie Love) and John Heard (Tommy Lee Jones had been DA Roy Foltrigg) poured sentimental syrup over their faux Southern accents. But as the weeks have gone by, the series has really shaped up. What started out as drawled bickering between Williams and Heard has become, with increasing frequency, smart, quick byplay.

The TV version of The Client is no genre bender — many weeks the plots could be transplants from Matlock or In the Heat of the Night. But even when the series approaches a theme that’s been tackled before, such as the Oct. 24 episode about racial tension, it does so in a way that’s both dramatically striking (the plot is set in motion when a white girl and a black boy are asked to kiss in a high school production of Romeo and Juliet) and unpredictable (the black student then responds to whites’ outrage by burning a Confederate flag, which causes a whole new set of problems). Ossie Davis reprises his movie role as Judge Roosevelt, and he’s still a tad too hammy, but for the most part, The Client, along with ABC’s The Marshal on Mondays, can be considered an underrated pleasure for the family hour. B-