Kooky legal dramas such as Ally McBeal and Boston Legal have been a mainstay of the U.S. television networks for years, but while this niche was once the sole purview of writer/producer David E. Kelley, that’s no longer the case. And to prove the point I’d like the court to consider Franklin & Bash, the complete first season of which has just arrived on DVD.
The show stars Breckin Meyer (Road Trip, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Garfield) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue, Raising the Bar and yes, Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell) as Jared Franklin and Peter Bash, a pair of unconventional attorneys with a predilection for referring to themselves in the third person whose courtroom theatrics (think lightsabre fights, drinking in court and making out with their clients) often get them into trouble while nevertheless helping them win their cases. After scoring an unlikely victory in a case that pits them against the prestigious law firm Infeld Daniels, the duo come to the attention of Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) who invites them to join his company in order to inject a little more life into its staid corporate proceedings.
So what we basically have on that premise is a younger, sexier Boston Legal with Meyer and Gosselaar as two halves of James Spader’s Alan Shore and McDowell’s eccentric Infeld very much in the vein of William Shatner’s Denny Crane – but to dismiss Franklin & Bash merely as a new take on an old show would be to do it a great disservice because this is a wonderfully enjoyable series in its own right.
First and foremost, the casting is perfect. Meyer and Gosselaar are utterly charming in their roles, carefully treading the fine line between being likeable and cocky. There’s a noticeable chemistry between the pair (an almost dictionary definition of the word bromance, you could say) that is exploited to good effect, ensuring that the show remains eminently watchable even in its few weaker moments. The supporting cast, led by McDowell and including Dana Davis as paralegal Carmen Phillips, Reed Diamond as Infeld’s nephew Damien Karp, Garcelle Beauvais as senior partner Hanna Linden, and Kumail Nanjiani as Pindar Singh are also worthy of praise, with the latter in particular providing a great comic turn as Franklin and Bash’s housebound, phobia-ridden researcher.
As a result of originally being broadcast on the TNT cable channel in the States, Franklin & Bash has a noticeably shorter season than most U.S. hourlong shows with only 10 episodes in total: Pilot, She Came Upstairs to Kill Me, Jennifer of Troy, Bro-Bono, You Can’t Take it With You, Big Fish, Franklin vs. Bash, The Bangover, Bachelor Party, and Go Tell it on the Mountain. Such a short run has nevertheless allowed the writers and producers to focus on quality over quantity, helping the show achieve a consistency that is often missing from series with longer runs. Unintentionally, of course, it also leaves the viewer wanting more (thankfully a second season is already in production).
Extras on the DVD include a handful of somewhat slight featurettes comprised of brief interviews with the cast and crew and padded out with various clips taken from the episodes. These are diverting enough without giving any real significant insight into the production of the show, although Meyer and Gosselaar’s tour of their characters’ so-called ‘man cave’ and three commercials done in the style of adverts for Franklin & Bash LLC are enjoyable additions.
But while the extras may prove a little underwhelming the episodes themselves make this boxset a more than worthwhile purchase, particularly for those lamenting the end of Boston Legal; it may not be quite as smart as that show, but it’s funnier, sexier, and every bit as entertaining. Franklin & Bash is by far one of my favourite new shows of 2011.