Welcome to week six of Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten, or unknown film and TV credits. This week’s actor…
To namedrop two Steven Bochco landmarks that set the bar for every crime and legal drama since—L.A. Law in the 80’s and NYPD Blue in the 90’s—Jimmy Smits is a magnet for great television. The best character that came out of the uneven final years of Sons of Anarchy, Smits has done arcs on The West Wing and Dexter. He’s played a Senator in the Star Wars prequels. He was the guy Jane the Virgin‘s Jane dreamed was her dad before getting to meet her real one. Most recently linked to Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix project, The Get Down, there is no character that Smits can’t carry over seasons of quality television. Which is probably why, with all due respect, Outlaw only lasted one.
Outlaw “In Re: Gregory Beals”
Season 1, Episode 1
Directed by Terry George
Written by John Eisendrath
TV pilots love to feature main characters making brash decisions for personal happiness. All Cyrus Garza’s resignation does in Outlaw‘s first episode is take a show about a Supreme Court justice and turn it into yet another lawyer drama. Outlaw wishes it were bland. Instead, it’s implausible, with Garza (Smits) stepping down from the bench only to reappear hours later on the defense team of the last case he ruled on, the deciding vote in a death row conviction that has been dragging along for eleven years (but somehow manages to finish in the 40-ish minutes it takes for this episode to end).
But every crime show smudges how long it takes to complete basic tasks. Lets look at what makes Outlaw uniquely bad: the show’s complete disregard of the consequences of a public figure speaking carelessly in public. If this election cycle has taught us nothing it’s that there’s always a record. Someone is taping you, someone is watching you, and at the very least someone is quoting your words to the press, because that is how it works when you’re a high profile, however careful, exposure risk. So when Outlaw‘s pilot begins with a not yet retired Justice Garza walking through a crowd of Beals protesters, and he stops to talk to a woman who denounces his politics, that is the opposite of careful. That is Little Red Riding Hood, political figure, stranger danger 101. Yet Cyrus hits on her, sleeps with her that night, and has nary a tabloid cover to show for it the next day. A crowd of people who know who he is and are there to see him but none spot a shiny pay day out of this story? After he takes the bunk and his profile jumps, nobody? Come on!
The worst part is, rather than leave this glaring carelessness to an anomaly, Outlaw rubs alcohol in it when later one of Garza’s clerks announces that Garza has three months to live in front of their client’s wife and the entire, busy court house. Not only has he never shared this private information with her but her evedropping got it wrong. He’s healthy. But lets not worry about that rumor spreading like wild fire. Lets fret over the embarrassment of her professing her love for Garza, the boss who’s been making unprofessional remarks about her beauty throughout her employment, in the same breath.
Other members of Garza’s team include Arrow‘s David Ramsey, a PI doing a bad impression of The Good Wife‘s Kalinda (before The Good Wife existed) and Kirsten Dunst’s boyfriend from Bring It On, who I’m mentioning in order to share that discovery.
Outlaw is an attempt to hypnotize us into thinking Jimmy Smits’ coolness and ability to throw a basketball transfers to his character, always seen playing catch. They don’t. Attempts to latch onto anything in this pilot came up empty-handed.
Verdict: Better Left Buried
Lack of believability doesn’t have to be a TV deal breaker. On Scandal everybody, including the president, is a murderer, and that show still works on a bizarre, these people are monsters, level. The difference is How to Get Away With Murder, which doesn’t even bother to teach its young lawyers not to lie on a crime scene bed (early season 1 episode, before I stopped watching, this happened and the guy from Wings was there). Some real-world rules have to apply to give a show any credence. To see a great lawyer, watch Jimmy Smits as Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law. To see a one-time judge whose decisions are all un-thought out whims, stick with Outlaw.
Check back tomorrow for a look at Jimmy Smits’ performance against a glowing green light.