Simon Baker is riding high these days. Last year his new series, The Mentalist, was the highest ranked new drama of the year. That accomplishment got the show paired with CSI in that enviable Thursday night time slot. I’m amazed when I hear folks tell me how the actor appeared to come out of nowhere. A few film roles and he’s Mr. Television. Well, count me in with the small group that isn’t so surprised and saw him coming as far away as 2001 with a sleeper CBS series called The Guardian.
Baker played Nick Fallin, a talented young lawyer who just got busted for cocaine. Nick won’t see the inside of prison, however. His father, Burton (Coleman) is the senior partner at one of Pittsburgh’s most influential corporate law firms. Instead of jail, Nick is given five years probation and ordered to serve 1500 hours of community service. His court ordered assignment is Legal Services Of Pittsburgh, formally Children’s Legal Services. He’s placed under the charge of Alvin Masterson (Rosenberg), an idealist who set up the law clinic originally to speak for children who have no one else to do so. He’s resentful of Nick’s pampered lifestyle and at first wants to make the gig hard enough on him that he might ask to be assigned elsewhere. Eventually they warm to each other as Nick becomes more vested in the job than he thought he would be. Much of the show’s conflict is derived from Nick juggling these two worlds. He still has a duty as a shark attorney for his father’s firm, yet must find time to help these indigents and children that have come to the clinic for help.
It was a rather clever spin on the old lawyer procedural. Baker plays it very low-key but still manages to shine. Nick shares his arrogant nature with his Mentalist character, but here his heart is usually in the right place, even if it doesn’t usually start there. There are some good story arcs dealing with his addiction and the problems it could cause him if he falls off the wagon. Dabney Coleman is perfectly cast as the absent father who lives for his firm. Nick’s mother died when he was young, but Burton never really found time for his son, instead shuffling him off to boarding schools and eventually college all of his life. Now as he’s gotten older Burton wants to connect with his son but doesn’t really know how anymore. Wendy Moniz joins the cast as a regular from season two. She plays another young idealistic lawyer, Lulu Archer. This season she is Nick’s primary love interest as their relationship takes much more of the center stage. While not a particularly dynamic actress at first, she does grow with the role. She’s one of those actresses who can say a lot with her eyes.
Bob Dylan’s son Jakob wrote the theme that started with the second season and carries through to this one.
Guests on the season include: Alex Hyde-White, Hill Street Blues veteran Bruce Weitz as Jake’s father, the future Captain James T. Kirk Chris Pine, former Brady Maureen McCormick, Zac Efron, and a very young Chloe Moretz from Kick Ass and Let Me In.
While I’m not exactly sure the show intended to end here, the show runners did a pretty good job of offering closure, of a sort, for many of the characters. The season loses the James Mooney character as the season begins.
Each episode is presented in its original television full-frame format. There wasn’t any real cleanup effort here, but fortunately the show is not that old. It looks pretty much the way I remember it from broadcast television. It’s a very average image presentation all the way around. The show is filmed a little darkly even in normal lighting conditions. I think the idea is to get across the industrial city atmosphere of Pittsburgh. That means colors are a bit understated. Flesh tones are fine, and black levels are so-so.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track does what it needs to do, nothing less, nothing more. You get to hear the dialog, and that’s pretty much all there really is to this series.
Unfortunately nothing at all.
As good as I always thought the show was, it was never a ratings winner. It lasted only three years and quickly fell into obscurity when it was over. I’m quite sure that it’s only the popularity of The Mentalist that got these episodes released on DVD at all. Whatever reason the show found its way to DVD isn’t important. What is important is that a new wave of fans might now have the opportunity to discover the show. This was one of those I really wanted but suspected would never come. Now all three seasons are avail on DVD. You don’t have them yet? What are you waiting for? “Make it happen.”.