Watching James Earl Jones thunder through this overheated drama as a rampaging, do-good dragon, you half expect flames to shoot out of his nostrils. Jones plays an ex-cop sent unjustly to prison for a killing committed in self-defense. After many years behind bars, he wins his freedom with the help of a tough but idealistic lawyer (Laila Robins). We see Jones emerge from jail in this pilot, which sets up the series’ premise: From now on, he’ll work as the lawyer’s legman, doing investigative work and helping to bring criminals to justice. This idea doesn’t make much sense. Many people in the debut episode, for example, remark on how much Jones has aged in prison, and decades spent in jail wouldn’t seem to be a great qualification for a streetwise investigator. But the biggest problem with Gabriel’s Fire is that it’s wildly overblown and melodramatic. Jones deploys his imposing stature and booming baritone to intimidate wiry young hoods — he lifts them off the ground until they meet his eyes, and then lectures them in his voice of God.
Laila Robins is sleek and reed-thin next to Jones, but she’s fully up to the challenge of chewing as much scenery as he does. Robins conveys how devoted she is to justice by yelling, being rude to her colleagues, and walking really fast so her high heels go clickclickclickclick. It’s footwear as a nervous tic.
Everybody in Gabriel’s Fire could use a cup of hot cocoa and a good nap. C