There oughta be a law. That's an understandable reaction to learning that this season would bring us two new buddy shows about quirkily mismatched lawyers.
At least Fox's irritating Head Cases was canceled after just two episodes. Still on the docket is WB's Just Legal (Mondays, 9 pm/ET), which mostly overcomes its contrived premise and clichéd courtroom theatrics with well-played characters you might actually root for.
Don Johnson, whose bad-boy persona served him well through Miami Vice and Nash Bridges, makes the most of his latest ne'er-do-well role: washed-up beachfront lawyer Grant Cooper, an alcoholic pariah who finds his way back to marginal self-respect by partnering with idealistic teen prodigy David "Skip" Ross (Jay Baruchel of Million Dollar Baby).
No one wants to work with Grant. No one wants to hire Skip. They make an enjoyably amusing underdog tag team, the eager academic know-it-all learning on the job while lighting a fire under the burned-out seen-it-all. Who's mentoring whom here? It's not always easy to tell.
Johnson is especially adept at revealing the bitter, defeated cynic beneath the bluff bravado of a guy who cuts corners, plea-bargaining first and reading case files later, if ever. Baruchel's scrunched-up face and twitchy mannerisms may come off like shtick, but they're perfect for conveying Skip's awkward attempts to play lawyer with grown-ups.
It's in court where Legal falters, with cases wrapping up too neatly amid strident speeches about how great the law is, despite its faults. It makes me want to borrow Grant's advice to his gawky protégé: "Stop talking."