Shark: Season 1 - LAPD Blues (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from our favourite television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the key episode of Shark entitled LAPD Blue.
What’s the story? An undercover narcotics detective is murdered by a drug dealer and legal hotshot Sebastian Stark (James Woods) has to deal with the murdered cop’s partner (Henry Simmons), who is hesitant to trust or help him because he often used questionable means to win acquittals for his often-guilty clients when he was a defence attorney.
Why the review? After the Spike Lee directed opening episode, Shark continued to try and win audiences over with its sharp mix of legal game-playing and father-daughter relationship. But while the formula makes for an easy watch and James Woods is a superb leading man, the show so far has only been good without ever coming close to great.
Digging a little deeper: I have long been a fan of James Woods. He is an incredibly charismatic actor who can make the most banal material seem interesting (watch his scene-stealing villain in Sylvester Stallone’s The Specialist as ample proof of this). Put him together with something that’s worthy of his talents, however, and he can be electrifying (as in last season’s ER or films like Salvador).
Having found and enjoyed TV thanks to ER, Woods now gets his own show on which to showcase his skills. But while Shark boasts plenty of potential, it has yet to deliver the real goods. So, in true legal fashion, we present the case for and against.
The case for goes something like this… Shark is worth watching for James Woods alone. It’s sharply written, plays to Woods strengths and comes alive in the courtroom when the actor gets the chance to showboat.
Woods is the perfect choice to play an obnoxious defence lawyer who switches sides following a crisis of confidence. He has long demonstrated the ability to play both sinister and sympathetic in equal measure, trading on his passionate sense of timing and his looks. As Sebastian Stark, he maintains a ruthless streak shown in some of his better villains, whilst also displaying a sensitive side in moments with his daughter.
He also gets to deliver his put-downs with casual relish, striking with all the grace, agility and downright ferociousness of a Great White Shark. Hence, Shark provides a suitably undemanding slice of escapism that keeps you watching.
But the case against it could eventually contribute to its early disbarment. Rather like House, the programme which comes before it on Channel Five, it’s focused on one flawed hero whose charisma sometimes comes at the expense of the supporting characters.
In House‘s case, it’s saved by some suitably twisting plots, more clever writing and enough supporting players to keep Hugh Laurie on his toes (most notably Robert Sean Leonard who consistently provides a nice foil). As yet, Shark has no such fallbacks.
His fresh-faced team of legal recruits have yet to distinguish themselves or rise above cliche, while his superiors merely huff and puff without ever really threatening to blow Stark’s house down. The cases, too, are pretty straightforward where a little more complexity may pay richer dividends.
In LAPD Blue, for example, the guilt of the drug dealer was never in doubt. Nor was the innocence of either of the cops involved in the case. The only suspense stemmed from how Stark would get round the potentially disastrous issue of the dead cop’s partner’s decision to plant evidence. That he managed to do it impressively by pegging the prosecution’s case on the cop’s confession was a nice touch – but audiences had to wait while his inept bunch of rookie legal eagles did their best to screw things up.
It’s an almost identical formula to House but it tip-toes through the moral grey zones, where Hugh Laurie’s maverick doctor wallows in them. As such, Shark‘s bite is much tamer.
If, as hinted, Henry Simmons does continue to appear in the show then he, at least, might provide a worthy sparring partner for Woods having done well as part of the latter-day NYPD Blue ensemble. But Shark still has some work to do to convince us it has the legs for a long and successful run.
Our verdict? The jury’s still out on this one…