For those who left the theater after the credits rolled on Sydney Pollack's 1993 film The Firm and wondered what happened to Tom Cruise’s Mitch McDeere and his family after bringing down a mobbed and corrupt law firm, last year’s short-lived but fast-paced series of the same name answers that question: a decade in the witness protection service. The series picks up after that, and while it may only have gotten one season, The Firm covers a lot of ground in an impressive 22-episode arc, with both a primary and secondary plot. It does so with an impressive cast that starts with Josh Lucas but also includes Juliette Lewis, Callum Keith Rennie, Molly Parker, Tricia Helfer, and Martin Donovan, and a quasi-episodic formula that is both the series’ greatest strength and the likely cause of its demise.
Taking place ten years after the film, Josh Lucas takes the place of Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere (and he does so quite well), who’s just stepped out of the witness protection program so he and his family can begin their lives anew in Washington D.C., only to encounter similar problems. Mitch’s newly started firm sees him handle the cases in court while his brother Ray (Rennie) and his girlfriend Tammy (Lewis) investigate out in the real world, helping Mitch find the evidence that will get his clients off the hook. Eventually he runs into a case his three-man operation can’t handle and a partner (Helfer) at a powerful firm agrees to take Mitch’s firm on as a subsidiary partner: Mitch gets the research support his firm can’t handle and as a trade-off he answers to the firm and takes their criminal court clients to victory. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the firm’s interest in McDeere isn’t just for his skills but for a murder case that landed in his lap and could tie the firm and the head of an insurance agency (Donovan) to a huge scandal.
At the start of each episode, The Firm flashes forward in time to hook the viewer on a cliffhanger we wouldn’t otherwise see for episodes to come. It’s not too confusing and yes, it does succeed in making us wonder how Mitch got himself into such a predicament where men in suits are chasing him through some of D.C.’s most iconic locations and low-rent hotels, but it’s not really necessary. There’s enough promise in the opening of the series that we’d have stuck around just to see how its few loose threads unraveled. The real obstacle The Firm had to tackle was how to remain an episodic law drama while accommodating the overarching story of insurance fraud and murder that explodes into a conspiracy with a number of key players and unexpected turns.
It’s understandable why the series and its writers would want to stick to the episodic formula of one case per episode—it makes it easier for the casual viewer to miss one or two episodes and still keep them—but had they just given the show over to that primary plot and let things go as far down the rabbit hole as they wanted, it would have avoided the sense of staleness that pervaded the series every time we had to wait for the trial-of-the-week to finish out so the series would get back to the more interesting conspiracy. Instead, it tries to please both crowds for the first third of the season before giving up and dedicating most of its energy to the conspiracy which lasts up through the two-thirds marker. At which point a second plotpoint, one related to the original film, comes into play.
Of course, even then it would still have been plagued by a few ridiculous clichés and nonsensical elements like a group of conspirators gathering around a table for no other purpose than to assure the audience that something shadowy was afoot. Or how about a man running awkwardly through an inches-deep pond while his captors, afraid to get their shoes wet, run around the outside, only to have the pursued miraculously emerge at the other end before his hunters with a little time to spare?
Bottom line: had The Firm stuck to its guns and gone all in on the larger story, it could have been something great.
DVD Bonus Features
There’s nothing too special here, just the basics like a production featurette, a spotlight on Josh Lucas filling in as Mitch McDeere, how the original John Grisham book influences the TV series, and some cast and crew interviews.
"The Firm: The Complete Series" is on sale October 16, 2012 and is not rated. Crime, Drama. Directed by Helen Shaver, Holly Dale. Written by John Grisham, Lukas Reifer. Starring Callum Keith Rennie, Josh Lucas, Juliette Lewis, Martin Donovan, Molly Parker, Tricia Helfer.