In Doubt, Katherine Heigl plays Sadie Ellis, a lawyer who we know is a cocky knockout, because she rides a bike to work and then changes into a skirt and heels while chatting with a colleague. We soon know that she’s a fighter for her clients, because her most prominent client tells her, “You’re a fighter!” He also makes goo-goo eyes at her, and we know there are sparks between them — this, despite the fact that this client, played by Rescue Me’s Steven Pasquale, is on trial for a 24-year-old murder.
Doubt is one of those old-fashioned lawyer shows that strives mightily to make its main character a maverick, but not so much of a maverick that the character becomes irritating. That’s important, because its star, Heigl, is coming off a failed drama — NBC’s State of Affairs — and a lingering reputation as being “difficult” to work with going back to her Grey’s Anatomy days. So who better to help ensure that Heigl comes across as likable than two people who used to work at Grey’s — Doubt creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater?
And indeed, Heigl’s Sadie smiles a lot more than she did in the grim State of Affairs, and she does a reasonable facsimile of liking her law office-mates, a stuffed space that includes Psych’s Dulé Hill as the lawyer most often paired with Sadie in court; Orange Is the New Black’s Laverne Cox as a smart lawyer who serves as a mentor to an up-and-coming one, played by The Good Wife’s Dreama Walker; and Elliott Gould as the “big dog” of the firm, Isaiah Roth, a former radical defense attorney whose past includes such clients as the Black Panthers. So far, what I’m most looking forward to about the entire Doubt project is a spinoff about Isaiah’s younger-lawyer life: Just CGI in the Elliott Gould of his 1970 radical-politics movie, director Richard Rush’s Getting Straight.
The pilot episode of Doubt sets up the show’s structure: The ongoing storyline about Pasquale’s Billy Brennan — his trial and his romance with Sadie — and a case-of-the-week that will satisfy viewers who like things to be wrapped up in 60 minutes, in the tradition of CSI, NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, and a hundred other such CBS shows. Perhaps to make sure that the audience keeps watching even if they’re not crazy about Heigl, the premiere is stuffed with more familiar faces than I’ve ever seen in a pilot, including The Affair’s Kathleen Chalfant, The Wire’s Domenick Lombardozzi (Herc!), Broadway legend Donna Murphy, Oz’s Lee Tergesen, Girls’ Becky Ann Baker, and, at the very end, Transparent’s Judith Light. This show is so crammed that a very familiar face, John Finn (co-star of Cold Case and hundreds of other TV and movie roles), is cast as the father of a defendant, and unless I missed something, isn’t even given one line of dialogue.
Look, I’m rooting for Heigl. I think she’s a good performer, she’s got a cute new baby, and I’ve long thought her “bad” reputation carries with it more than a whiff of sexism. It’s also significant that Cox is in the cast — the first transgender person to be a series regular, as a transgender character, on a primetime network show, and in a role in which her identity is not the primary focus. But it would have been nicer if Cox’s Cameron Wirth had something more to do than just being a “strong lawyer with a gift of gab” in a law office overrun with similarly talky people. I was watching the pilot and thinking that its storytelling rhythms and the workplace setup reminded me of another CBS show, Madam Secretary, and then I noticed that Phelan and Rater also worked on that show. At the same time, it’s very clear from the dialogue, pacing, and tone that Doubt would really like to remind you of still another CBS show — The Good Wife — but, sorry, it’s nowhere in the same league.
I may not have continued watching the other two episodes CBS provided for review had my wife not been more intrigued by the show than I was. I’m glad I watched them with her, if only to confirm my judgments above. Well, I sort of had to watch. Why? Because my wife is a fighter — just like Sadie.
Doubt airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on CBS.
‘This Is Us’ Recap: What Would Jack Do?
‘Doubt’ EPs Preview New Drama Starring Katherine Heigl and Laverne Cox
Sun Records Exclusive: Chad Michael Murray on Playing ‘Big Personality’ Sam Phillips