He certainly has the eyes for it. James Woods has made a pretty fine living off those unblinky, decidedly untwinkly, great-white-like orbs. Now Woods plays lawyer Sebastian Stark, whose ruthless instincts have earned him the rhyming nickname Shark. Unfortunately, scary peepers alone do not make for good legal drama. Shark‘s whole gimmick revolves around the fact that Stark is a onetime big-money defense lawyer who’ll do anything (anything!) to win. One colossal backfire later — a former client kills his wife, assuming the immoral Stark will once again save his bacon — and Stark switches sides. Now he’s working for the Los Angeles DA in hopes of easing his conscience. Right, so when I said gimmick, I guess I meant ”tired trope.” If you want a brilliant, compromised defense attorney with a punny sobriquet who just may learn something about justice, you’d seek Judd Nelson in 1987’s From the Hip. (Character name: Robin ”Stormy” Weathers.)
Of course, it’s near impossible to break new ground in legal dramas at this point. But Shark doesn’t even try to hide its weariness. Some scenes have been lifted wholesale from A Few Good Men: Stark breaks down witnesses during theoretically shocking interrogations; Stark disrespects and patronizes his by-the-book female boss, District Attorney Jessica Devlin (Boston Public‘s Jeri Ryan). Woods and Ryan have so little chemistry in what’s supposed to be a sparky relationship that it’s easy to simply tune out their banter, which can basically be translated to: ”Blahblahblah you’d better do this, Stark!” ”Blahblahblah I’ve got a penis, so you can’t make me.” The situation is so belabored and the dialogue so generally uninspired, I estimate we’re just two episodes away from a character spouting some version of: ”Why don’t you two just do it and get it over with?” Make that one episode. This is the drama, after all, that forces its star to snap zinger wannabes like ”Second place is death!” and ”Truth is relative: Pick one that works.”
By the way, if those don’t sound like the utterings of a reformed scoundrel, you’ve hit upon another key problem with Shark: The guy has given up millions to work for the DA’s office and do good, yet he’s as unethical as ever. He encourages his small band of bright, young, boring lawyers to cheat and manipulate — which should come easily, since every character has a name made for soap operas (yes, I mean you, Ms. ”Raina Troy”). Isn’t it inevitable that genius Stark will eventually realize he’s doing the same jerky work for a lot less cash? And then won’t he quit? And then won’t this show be over? Here’s hoping for a quick epiphany.