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Shark: Season 1 - Review

James Woods in Shark

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THERE’S one reason for watching Shark and that’s James Woods. The actor seems to be having lots of fun playing a sharp-witted lawyer who suddenly finds himself on the right side of the law after defending criminals for too long.

But sadly, the show itself frequently struggled to match the high standards of its central performer, emerging as lightweight viewing rather than a heavy-hitter in the style of NYPD Blue or House (to which it clearly owes much of its inspiration).

The premise was simple: When a client he defended for assault goes on to commit murder, ruthless lawyer Sebastian Stark suffers a crisis of conscience and promptly finds himself on the fast road to a burnout.

Redemption comes in the form of a job prosecuting high profile cases for the DA, which enables him to switch sides, and impart his limitless knowledge to a new bunch of eager recruits.

But just as Hugh Laurie’s House character boasts a brilliant mind and a way with his clients that’s offset by some questionable means and a really bad attitude, so too does Stark and it’s quickly apparent that there’s nothing he won’t do in order to win a case.

To add a little emotion into the mix, however, Stark also has an estranged 16-year-old daughter (played by Danielle Panabaker) to deal with, who provides lots of opportunity for soul-searching once she moves in with him rather than joining her mother in New York.

It almost goes without saying that a significant part of every episode is devoted to the building of their relationship which, in turn, gives rise to plenty of sentimental outbursts. It’s also crucially when the show is at its least effective.

That said, most episodes of Shark‘s first season gave rise to easy, undemanding viewing that were boosted by the presence of Woods in the lead role. And there were some standout episodes.

Early on, LAPD Blue pitted Shark against both drug dealers and sceptical cops as he attempted to prosecute the murder of an undercover narcotics detective (thereby helping to introduce former NYPD Blue star Henry Simmons as a recurring character).

And mid-season shocker The Wrath of Khan ended in the surprise death of one of the leading cast members (Alexis Cruz).

Best of all, however, was a two-part story (spread between episodes 12 and 22) that found Stark taking on his trickiest suspect yet, in the form of Bill Campbell’s sadistic serial killer Wayne Carlson who bucked the trend set in many episodes by actually beating Stark in the courtroom (episode entitled Wayne’s World) to set up the inevitable rematch for the season finale Wayne’s World 2: Revenge of the Shark.

Those two episodes, especially, displayed the sort of quality that was sometimes missing from the rest of the show and really appeared to flex Woods’ acting muscles. It remains to be seen whether lessons will be learned for the second season but for now Shark seems happy to entertain without really coming close to being considered essential viewing.