Returning Shows

The Guardian CBS, 9-10 PM STARTS SEPTEMBER 24

The last thing American television needs is another legal drama starring a righteous, do-gooding, always-on-the-straight-and-narrow Brooks Brothers type. Which is what makes The Guardian so darn intriguing. Hotshot attorney Nick Fallin (Simon Baker) is a convicted drug user forced to do community service for needy children and hating every minute of it. Still nose-deep in a cocaine habit, Nick continues to spar with a cold-as-ice dad who also happens to be his boss — Pittsburgh law-firm founder Burton Fallin (Dabney Coleman), who permanently peeved Nick years ago by shuffling him off to boarding school after his mother died.

Perry Mason it isn’t. But that’s precisely the point, says Baker. ”When we made the pilot, I remember people asking, ‘What’s the story? Is he a good guy or a bad guy?”’ recalls the Australian actor (who pulls off a heck of an American accent). ”Well, that’s the idea. I really liked the idea of playing a guy who’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Here’s a guy who has his own demons that he’s got to deal with, and is afraid of getting close, but who actually has a heart underneath it all.”

Although such seriously flawed protagonists are usually anathema to network TV, The Guardian’s been holding its own with the Nielsen jury. Averaging 12.2 million viewers last season, the series ended up just shy of besting fellow Tuesday-night drama NYPD Blue (12.3 million) and was light-years ahead of its time-slot rival, Fox’s 24 (8.6 million).

Still, unlike Kiefer and Co.’s much-ballyhooed spy drama, The Guardian suffered from a major buzz deficit last year, which is why the gloves (among other things) are coming off this time around. ”I’m going to allow the character to breathe a little bit and get laid every once in a while,” says Guardian creator David Hollander. But don’t expect the tryst to be with lithesome Lulu (Wendy Moniz) — the legal-services attorney who kissed Nick before ”going off to marry some f — -in’ goose” in the finale, says Baker. Instead, it’s with a friend of Lulu’s who’s involved in a bitter custody dispute — made worse by the fact that Dad and Junior catch Nick and Mommy together.

Oh, and then there’s that little murder charge Nick’s been slapped with — he’s suspected of offing his probation officer’s girlfriend (last seen comatose in the season finale after accidentally hitting her head in Nick’s apartment). Fortunately, he’ll clear his name, leaving him free to face new challenges like launching his own law firm and, well, not breaking so many drug statutes.

”He’s a f — -up,” says Baker. ”But he wants to see himself sorted out.”

The Guardian
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