There is a lot of good and a lot of bad to be said about the pilot episode of CBS' new sassy legal drama 'Made in Jersey.' Luckily, the good aspects seem poised to catch on with American audiences hungry for plot-driven material and a spunky new heroine.
The best thing about 'Made in Jersey' is undoubtedly its lead, Janet Montgomery. After recurring on 'Human Target' and 'Entourage,' the British actress has finally landed a starring vehicle and she seems poised to run with the ball. Slapping on some make-up, a pant-suit and a Jersey accent, Montgomery has crafted a Martina "Marty" Garetti that seems earnest, passionate and somewhat relatable, despite her expensive legal career. Earlier this week I pointed to one of the problems with 'Ben and Kate' as being an inability to connect with or root for Kate herself; 'Made in Jersey' leaps that hurdle from the onset, as Montgomery's casual charm is sufficient to carry interest in a series.
In fact, the casting all around for 'Made in Jersey' falls into the positive category. Veteran star of the small and silver screens, Kyle MacLachlan plays Donovan Stark, Garetti's equally-charming employer and mentor. MacLachlan shows poise by never giving in to the stereotype of the threatening big-city-firm lawyer and remains approachable and pleasant in his scenes. This helps believe the connection that the pair seem to share by the end of the pilot, forging the only real relationship that the episode offers.
Equally adept at her role is Stephanie March ('Law & Order: Special Victims Unit') as the horrendously bitchy Natalie Minka--however, bad news for March, the script of the pilot doesn't make her character anywhere near as real nor round as Stark or Garetti. March does what she can with her dialogue but Minka as a character fails to develop further than a Cruella DeVille knock-off with spurious motivations. There is time and leg-room for the writers to solve this problem and March seems up to the task to carry a heavier load, should they realize it's needed.
Which actually transitions nicely to the negative aspects of 'Made in Jersey:' the script. While the show is visually beautiful and the actors are competent, the first episode of 'Made in Jersey' suffers from Pilot-syndrome, cramming what would more naturally be a three-episode story-arc into a forty-five minute speed-run. The show is geared towards plot first-and-foremost, which isn't a problem, however the pilot didn't introduce us to Marty Garetti so much as allowed us a ride-along as she flies through plot at break-neck pace. We never see Marty at home; we never see Marty have a conversation that isn't about the case; we do not see Marty's friends--we do not know who Marty is.
We are, however, introduced to Marty's stereotypical Jersey family, with beautician sisters and a fast-talking brother. These characters are colorful and not at all detrimental to the series, however one episode in they amount to a stockpile with no details to differentiate.
Overall, 'Made in Jersey' has the makings of a success. The writing needs to slow itself down now that the pilot is behind them; Marty shouldn't be having the 'Legally Blonde' style "aha!" moments every segment, those need to be limited to seem less contrived. Still, I'd wager that Marty finds her audience and that 'Made in Jersey' lasts long enough for me to review the first episode of season two next year.
FINAL GRADE: B -