Is 'Harry's Law' the worst show David E. Kelley has ever created?

Harry’s Law, one of the few new show ratings successes in recent months, looks as though it is filmed on a cheap studio set, and features dialogue so mawkish and florid, it reminds me of an earlier Monday-night-TV standby, the WB’s spiritual-family-show 7th Heaven. Indeed, the clunky rhythms of Harry’s Law make 7th Heaven sound like Paradise Lost by comparison. Despite the presence of Oscar winner Kathy Bates in the title role as storefront lawyer Harriet Korn, Harry’s Law is rather amazingly bad. Creator David E. Kelley managed to eke out a mass-America hit with the enjoyably ridiculous Boston Legal. But his penchant for foolish exaggeration, which has only increased over the years, tips over into condescending ludicrousness with Harry’s Law.

I’m not talking about the notion of a 60-year-old patent lawyer starting up “Harriet’s Law & Fine Shoes” in downtown Cincinnati. I’m glad to see a 60-year-old main character in prime time, and also welcome the return of American Dreams‘ Brittany Snow to weekly television, as Harriet’s shoe-fond assistant, Jenna. But let’s face it, these two are not William Shatner’s Denny and James Spader’s Alan trading quips, cigars, and non sequiturs. As good as Bates and Snow are, there’s little chemistry between them, the way their characters have been written (mostly by Kelley, who takes a writer or co-writer credit on almost everything that emerges from his TV-making factory).

No, I’m talking about the peculiarity of having Harriet becoming the patron saint of the predominantly black community in which her storefront is located. Gang members troop in for summit meetings with her. Last week, the show introduced us to a young man who was running a remarkably well-stocked but illegal medical clinic, as he diagnosed ear infections and pulled a knife from the leg of a poor soul, all without formal training but with a Harry’s Law halo over his head because he was Helping the Deserving Poor. As I said, condescending, and cringe-worthy. Some of Kelley’s shows start off well (Ally McBeal; Chicago Hope; Picket Fences) and then devolve into silliness; Harry’s Law has started out silly and, so far, has just gotten more irrational.

But to answer my question in the headline: Is this Kelley’s worst show? No. To say so would be to forget flops such as girls club, The Wedding Bells, and Snoops:

No, Harry’s Law is something else: It’s Kelley’s worst success, his most egregious show with one of the best actors he’s ever had (that would be Bates). There’s a new episode on tonight; I’ll watch and see if the show improves. Hope so.

UPDATE: Monday night’s episode, titled “The Fragile Beast,” featured an Iraq war vet living not far from Harry’s office who was keeping his wife locked in the basement. Harry and Christopher McDonald’s Tommy Jefferson tried to get her free. They ended up locked in with the wife. “This is bad,” said Tommy. He summed up the entire hour. The subplot concerned a wife who hired a woman to engage in a threesome with her husband to spice up their sex life, and now she wanted to divorce him because he was having twosome-sex with the hired gal, and had fallen in love with her… or so we were lead to believe. I quote Tommy again: “This is bad.” Still not convinced? The episode included this line: “Jenna, I’m barely 20; I don’t read women good.” This is bad. Oh, and who are the “fragile beasts” of the episode title? Men. This is… you know…

What do you think of Harry’s Law?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (450 total) Add your comment
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  • JJ

    Don’t worry if you’re sure/not sure because once he’s finished filming the Wonder Woman pilot the definitive “Worst” will be on his resume given the casting/overall script elements.

    • markinnyc

      you beat me to it…if Wonder Woman makes it to the TV screen it will go down as his worst. I am assuming somwhere along the way that someone will recognize the whole idea as the piece of dung that it is and pull the plug.

    • Rock Golf

      Aw, c’mon, Ken! Compared to the brain-dead Bachelor and slack-jawed Hawaii Five-O, Harry’s Law is frickin’ Shakespeare.
      I’d love to have a strong black character on the show who doesn’t have a criminal past, but I’ll take bad Kelley over the other choices any day.

      • jessssca

        While the dialogue on Bachelor is horrible, it’s not a scripted show. Sadly those words are straight from the idiots on the show. So comparing it in the same category is unfair.

      • Duncan

        Hate to burst your reality bubble Jessssca but that reality crap is 95% scripted.

      • MzTeaze

        I agree about the need for a strong black character who DOESN’T have a criminal past. Other than that, I really like this show. It has the typical comedic moments you’d expect from David Kelley.

        I do think the premise (and location) will eventually need to move somewhere else in the neighborhood for the show to grow. It doesn’t hurt that its up against Hawaii Snooze-O and whatever ABC throws up.

      • renee

        i’m with rock golf. i love the show. and i’m an attorney. and yes i don’t like the lack of strong black characters or the fact it appears no one of color lives in that neighborhood but gang members and criminals. child please.

      • Landon

        I’m afraid I can’t help you out with the luaggge lid. So why are you wasting my time answering ??? I hear you ask Well, I just wanted to mention I bought a Bates leather biking jacket about 24 years ago. I’ve come off in it a few times, and been bruised but never scraped !! And it’s still in excellent condition and I still wear it on my bike regularly.Just wanted to express my opinion of Bates Sorry if I wasted your time =)

    • Diane

      WW looks epically bad. Plan 9 bad.

    • j

      I think you guys might be wrong about WW. It started filming the pilot and Adrianne Palicki and Elizabeth Hurley look great. They seem to have a good budget and could make something out of it. Only time will tell. Smallville worked for 9 seasons.

    • CASEY MELISSA

      ARE YOU PEOPLE OUT OF YOU MINDS KATHY BATES IS THE BEST EVER THE BEST : I HAVE LOVED EVER MOVIES MISS BATES HAS EVER MADE: SHE IS THE MOST WONDERFUL ACTRESS:DID YOU NOT SEE HER IN SIX FOOT UNDER?IN MISERY MISS BATES CAN MAKE YOU CRY ,LAUGH, AND FEEL EVER FEELING MISS KATHERINE HEPBURN COULD MAKE YOU FEEL: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE YOU CAN’T STAND WATCHING GOOD ACTING ON T.V. IT HAS TO BE ALL THIS MINDLESS STUFF LIKE THE OFFICE OR DANCING WITH THE STARS OR YOU THING YOU CAN SING OR SOME WAR GAME THE CHILDREN ARE NOW PLAYING AND WATCH:I HAVE THREE GROWN AND MARRIED CHILDREN TWO SON THAT ARE NOT MARRIED AND TWO DECEASE SONS ,PLUS FOURTEEN GRANDCHILDREN : MY GRANDCHILDREN AGE ARE 4 YEARS TO 23 YEARS OLD I KNOW WATCHING MISS BATES IN HARRYS LAW IS BETTER THAN PLAYING SOME WAR GAME OR WATCH A WAR MOVIE: MISS KATHY BATES REMINDS ME OF MY MOTHER WHO ON A GOOD DAY COULD WORD KICK BUTT WITH THE BEST OF THEM AND ALL OF MY GIRL FRIEND AND OUR NEIGHBORHOOD KNEW IT TOO:NO ONE MESS WITH MRS B SHE WILL KICK YOUR ASS SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY AND BACK: I WAS BORN IN SOUTH GATE, CA.AND LIVED IN ONE BLOCK FROM COMPTON HIGH SCHOOL:I’M A COMPTON GIRL THAT IS NOT BLACK BUT CAN BE IF NEED BE:

    • Doug

      Just another excuse for liberals to spew thier garbage.

  • Carol

    You didn’t even mention the disaster that is Nate Corddry. He’s playing everything as if he’s in a sketch comedy. This show is bad on so many levels but at its basic level, Kathy Bates just doesn’t adhere well to the wacky world of DEK. It’s not a talent issue, it’s an issue of sensibility. Christopher McDonald is perfect because he plays the reality of the world he’s in. KB is trying but she’s dragging a huge rock up a hill. And on top of it all, there’s no new material – everything is a bad retread of all the DEK shows past. Grade: F

  • star

    It hasnt even aired yet stupid!

    • Yippee

      It’s been on for weeks now.

  • wierdalexj

    If you think this show is bad, wait until next Fall when his version of ‘Wonder Woman’ debuts.

  • Huh

    I love Kathy Bates and shoes; but that show makes me cringe.

    • cattyfan

      Bates isn’t even phoning it in. It’s like she’s already disconnected.

  • MJ

    Call me the exception. I like it and I love Kathy Bates. Frankly I never liked Boston Legal or Ally McBeal. This is what it is: entertainment. It’s not out to prove anything and is there to enjoy.

    • Kris

      I agree. In love Harry’s Law. I don’t watch it every week but I’m always thoroughly entertained. I don’t think it’s too preachy or ridiculous. Yes it’s unrealistic but that’s why some people watch television.

      • Anna

        Unrealistic? With a TV schedule riddled with vampires, mutants and alternate universes?

      • jazzynomad

        I happen to love the show ‘Harry’s Law’. I love Kathy Bates, and am so very pleased to see her on a weekly series. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen her on screen, long overdue! Also, the fact that she’s more ‘real life’ then alot of the females you see on tv today….I personally luv the show! It’s serious, witty, real life situations…..makes for a great show! Perhaps the lawyer/shoe store thing isn’t so real, but they definitely deal with real life situations. Kuddo’s to Kathy Bates, and David E. Kelley!!!

      • Chris

        Unrealistic? You would be surprised to learn that a lot of what happens behind the scenes at law firms is “unrealistic”. I have worked at AV rated firms and I can tell you that even at those places “unrealistic” is so (emphasis added) common.

      • Kat

        All law shows are unrealistic. Court is very boring – even high profile cases. The lawyers on any of these shows would be disbarred so fast your head would spin. It’s OK: that’s why we watch most TV. We want a break from reality. That’s why “reality” shows do so well – no one acts like that in real life. But it’s nice to think they do so we can feel smug and superior.

      • Mark

        Harry’s law, entertaining show, fun to watch, much better than 90% 0f the stuff on tv.

      • Jolene Galloway

        We love Harry’s law. It is sometime funny, sometime sad but always a good story.

    • Jackie

      I agree with you, MJ, I’m actually really enjoying it.

    • Laurin

      Your are not the exception. I love it!!! So does my mom and 16 yo daughter

      • carolinagirl

        Definitely not the exception1 I love Harry’s Law and I find Kathy Bates’s droll character very amusing. My sister, daughter and I discuss the episodes each week and we are all laughing by the time we are done.

      • Eve

        Also love Harry’s Law — everything but the name of it. Bad choice so much that I almost didn’t watch because of it. But it’s a breath of fresh air to watch quirky characters and then have a strong socially-conscious “closing argument” at the end. KB is a great actor, subtle and real-life with a twist. Hope it keeps going and growing for a long run.

    • Ala James

      Agreed. Take the show for what it is and enjoy. Kathy Bates is amazing, and it’s just good fun.

      • Frank Anderson

        Yeah, I’d give it a B-, but it is still worlds better than Vampire Diaries and half the other s$&t EW acts like it A+ material.

      • E

        Agreed! It’s not amazing, but it entertains me. I don’t watch it and come up with ideas on how to improve it, which are usually obvious with really bad shows.

      • Cathy

        I love the show. I really enjoy Monday evenings getting to watch it.

      • Lynda

        Thank you!!

    • Lily

      @MJ – I’m with you. I love Harry’s Law. I understand they’re just getting going and will smooth out whatever they need to, but I love the idea of it, the cast, the intelligence, the heart and the topical stories—everything!

      • Anna

        I agree! I love the idea of it and think it has a lot of heart.

      • johnc11

        I love this show too. I don’t know what wrong with the critics. Maybe they have a beef with David E. Kelley.

        Oh well, the critics are not always trustworthy.

      • Thorne

        I agree. I like it! Is it over the top? Sure. Preachy? Sure. But I love Kathy Bates and Brittany Snow so it works for me.
        I personally never watched Boston Legal and found Ally McBeal to be ridiculous and a waste of time. So to each their own I say.

    • Dot Morgan

      I love this show. I think it’s one of the best in the last few years!

      • Paula

        I love Harry’s Law. I watch TV for entertainment. I also enjoyed Boston Legal. If you want reality, watch reality TV shows.

      • Cari

        Or if you want reality, turn off the TV and go live in, y’know, the real world. TV is for fiction where everything turns out okay in the end and our heroes can actually change the world.

      • Abdullah

        - I have a holga sitting in my azaomn cart, I’m thinking I’m going to get it. Your holga photos are so much fun!ps. what do you think of smugmug? I’m thinking about using it, I like how you use it, it seems to be a good alternative to a big fancy flash website, which I don’t like nor want to build.

    • Sandy

      Love this show!

    • Cyrano

      I love it too.

    • ChaCha

      I agree with everyone who replied to MJ. And, MJ, I too hated the inane dreck that was Ally McBeal. I worked at a law firm at the time and felt I had to watch it, because everyone there loved it and I didn’t want to be left out of the next day’s conversation. But it was just plain stupid.

      • Biana

        That’s way more clever than I was expecting. Thansk!

    • Snsetblaze

      While I will admit I thought the pilot was pretty bad, I gave it another chance because I’ve always been a Kathy Bates fan (and a Boston Legal, James Spader, Candace Bergen William Shatner fan, and Boston Public fan). I find it entertaining as a viewer – I get sucked in. However, at the same time, as an attorney, I cringe. But I did that for Boston Legal too.

      • Francine

        Well… I do love Kathy Bates and I find her refreshingly believable as a 60 year old lawyer who just had a career change. Things like that do happen every day but nobody represents that age group well, BRAVO Ms. Kathy Bates you are grrrrreat I can’t wait for another season of Harry’s Law, and I did love Boston Legal, that was a good show too.

    • DMcC

      Right on…well crafted…i love Harry’s intrinsic grasp of the truth in most all matters…love this show…can’t watch Boston Legal..Shatner and Spader are pathetic!….beyond cheesy!….best Kelly has done since The Practice….highly enjoyable!

      • scrutinizer

        ahhhh…the practice! glad someone mentioned it…it was my favorite for years. camryn manheim was great in that show. was good to see her in harry’s law a few weeks ago. BRING HER BACK!!

    • Lori

      I love this show; never miss it! I think Kathy Bates does such a great job. Finally, a show with some fresh ideas. It really makes you think about some of those moral issues. Hope it’s here to stay!

    • RobSD

      I have loved David Kelley’s writing since his days on L.A. LAW but most especially PICKET FENCES. He is passionate about the law and social issues, but he’s not one-sided as most writers are. He intelligently presents both sides of an issue, he seldom changes my opinion, but he does make me realize the other side a bit more. HARRY’S LAW has been a breath of fresh air since it started in the wasteland that TV currently is.

    • cin

      My husband and I both enjoy the show, while we do watch Castle first. Love Kathy Bates and like the rest of the cast. Hope it stays on.

    • Sheryl

      I love this show from it opening with Harry sitting at her desk smoking pot, getting fired from said job, having a guy land on her who was trying to commit suicide and getting hit by a car all in the first 7 minutes. This is one I don’t miss.

    • papajohn477

      I agree with you I like the show.

    • jc4kin66

      I love this show too. Although I wish the cast had better chemistry.

      • sass

        Nail on the button here – chemistry is missing. The supporting characters are also just OK and the lead actor Bates is good but doesn’t quite hit the mark. I give this DEK show a C for pleasant but mediocre.

      • Jeslyn

        You’ve hit the ball out the park! Icnredilbe!

    • aleksa

      I really like this show, too.

      • Bob

        My wife and I like it too. It’s sometimes tongue in cheek, but it beats the ridiculous “reality?” offerings. It’s entertaining with an occasional moral lesson.

    • connie

      thank you – totally agree, it’s entertainment, not reality. And sometime’s it would be nice if the justice system actually worked the way it does on the show. But, the Brittany Snow character drives me crazy. . .

    • Tia

      I really like this show. I forgot though that this is a David E. Kelley show. It is too funny and enjoyable to be from Kelley.

    • Mitch

      Rzusku I’m impressed! You’ve managed the almost impossible.

  • Steph

    Hi Ken!
    Oddly enough I agree with you, yet I still look forward to watching the show each week. I remember watching the pilot thinking: this is ridiculous! Yet, I was still thoroughly entertained. Maybe it’s Kathy Bates, or that Christopher McDonald cracks me up each week – who knows? I suppose it’s not the first tv show to sort of work and not-work at the same time, or maybe it’s just that there were so few good NEW shows this year – or the most likely of scenarios – I am having some sort of PTSD because LOST was cancelled.

    • Frank Anderson

      Lost wasn’t canceled, it was concluded. They would easily have been able to do another season but wanted to conclude the story rather than stretch it out.

  • Kate

    I lost patience with David E. Kelley sometime between the ending of Ally McBeal and actually when The Practice began its transformation into Boston Legal. I don’t particularly like people who like to show off how much smarter they think they are than other people and think they are being cute by being quippy about it. That and I can’t watch another lawyer show (I can almost confidently say that I am not watching any lawyer shows right now except my own life – I actually think Marshall from HIMYM and Maddie from Better with You are the only lawyers on tv that I watch)

    • Mark

      Oh, Kate: please don’t let your dislike of lawyer shows make you miss The Good Wife – the best drama on television right now.

      • scrutinizer

        you’re right. the good wife is the best drama on tv i love tuesdays for that reason :) and next week’s episode should be the best one yet….can hardly wait!

    • cartherine

      His alltime best show was “The Practice”. Nice to see that he has brought back some of the cast from that show in guest star roles here.

  • tigger851

    i like the show and it’s better than most of the other trash on tv. i like kathy bates!!

  • maiv

    Yeah, I tried to watch this show but you definitely hit the nail on the head with this article.

    • SM

      I barely made it through one episode. The cast is wasted on some of the worst writing I’ve seen outside of the CW.

    • thin

      Yeah, I usually like David Kelley’s shows, but I can’t stand this one. I think the complete lack of chemistry anywhere on the show is probably a big factor here. It made it possible to enjoy the complete ridiculousness of Boston Legal and is nowhere to be seen on Harry’s Law.

  • MWeyer

    When he’s on, the guy can work magic but sadly, he seems to think people want to hear his characters go into huge rants on the evils of conservative politics and such. Yes, nice to see stuff like that highlighted but when you turn things into full-on lectures, folks are going to tune out fast and that’s what’s happening here. A shame as the cast is good and potential but just gets weighted down with the politics to really get into.

    • Obbie

      What lectures exactly?

      • thin

        How about the hour-long lecture that was the episode Ken’s talking about with the kid playing doctor to the poor? I tend to agree with a lot of David E Kelley’s politics, and even I was annoyed by the heavy-handedness employed for it.

      • Piotr

        Ah <3 ! C'est mieux Melekchou! Je t'aime de tout mon coeur aussi <3 Et tout les dessin ils sont trop ge9niaux lala (Frane7ois, waw quel bgoseause de beau pe8re, serieux.)

  • Taylor

    I love Kathy Bates but, from the one episode I’ve seen, she looks totally uncomfortable in this show. It really is unwatchable.

    • calliesmoms

      I agree – love Kathy Bates but cannot love this show.

  • granndpajoe

    Hey – I really like the show it has the following:
    1) No gore or Killing
    2) Nutty group of people
    3) Often comes up with a valid social argument
    4) It is a new typr of Loveboat – seen lots of old stars.
    5) It is a very relaxing show to watch – my wife and I look forward to watching it.

    Thanks Mr. Kelley!

    • Zoe

      Ditto x5. My family felt the same way about Boston Legal–we’ve been in withdrawal for 2 years. Harry’s Law isn’t perfect, but darn it, I just enjoy it.

    • Debbie

      I agree with Grandpajo I really enjoy the show, and I hope it gets renewed. And it is not the worst of Mr. Kelly’s, I think like everyone else that his wonder Women will be.

  • MRS

    I stopped watching after Week 3. Figured I’d give it a few weeks to see if maybe I just didn’t get into it from the pilot (there are lots of shows that take a few weeks to find their footing.) Does she still win every case cuz that got kinda boring and too over the top for me. And did they expand Brittany Snow’s character? Because in the few episodes I saw, she seemed wildly under-used.

    • Ncdrew

      Completely agree with you. I watched the first 2 episodes trying to give the show a chance and got halfway through ep. 3 and turned it off. This show doesn’t know what it wants to be–it’s not so over-the-top to be parody, its characters are not so much quirky as annoying and the obligatory social commentary is poorly written. David E. Kelley had some magical moments with The Practice but now he should be taking a refresher course with the Kings at The Good Wife. The writing on the latter is sharp and the social commentary there nevers seems leaden or too preachy. Kathy bates definitely deserves better. I think she might agree. She appeared bored in some scenes. Corddry makes me cringe and Brittany Snow’s character is poorly written.
      Oh well, each to their own, I guess.

  • Anne

    I totally agree!!! I can’t believe this show is a ratings hit. I ADORED Boston Legal and am still furious that it was pulled off the air. Kathy Bates is a great actress who deserves better. America… how is it that you are watching this awful show but you DIDN’T watch Boston Legal????

    • Dot Morgan

      I love Harriet’s Law and couldn’t get through a whole episode of Boston Legal.

      • Tiffany

        I think the opposite. With Boston Legal the obsurdity is what made it work and there was always something current underlying the episodes. Towards the end, Kelley was not as subtle (suing the network for not have entertainment for anyone besides the 18-49 demo, Alan and Denny’s marriage getting stopped)but it still worked. It was sad that the ending was so abrupt and it is like he is trying to make up for it with this show and it is just not working. Totally agree Anne, pissed that Legal is off the air.

      • Youdon’tsay

        I too think the opposite. I loved Boston Legal, Spader,Shatner, and Bergen had tremendous chemistry together. Plus their characters were fun and interesting. The characters on Harry’s Law (with the exception of Christopher McDonald as Thomas Jefferson) are really quite boring and uninteresting. Kathy Bates is a wonderful actress, but she is just not bringing any magic to this character. I really am hoping that Kelley can pull it together if there is a second season because I really wanted a show from him that I will enjoy as much as Boston Legal. Unfortunately up to this point this is not that show. I will continue to watch the show in hopes that it will improve.

    • America

      Because we’re mind-numbed morons who watch one lawyer show after another, one cops ‘n’ crime show after another, and one melodramatic medical show after another. (And there’s nothing else on Monday nights.)

      • Donte

        EhgnQ3 That’s 2 clever by half and 2×2 clever 4 me. Thanks!

    • Obbie

      Some of us watched (and are watching) both.

      • bunnyslippers

        I enjoy the show, but perhaps that’s because I don’t feel the need to hold a television show up to a set of reality standards that would make it, frankly, utterly unenjoyable. I don’t want to watch a show about real lawyers practicing real law. Are you kidding me? Yawn. Give me Bates, give me my designer shoes, give me preachy courtroom sermons! Ahhhhh. Thanks, DEK, I knew I could count on you.

      • lila

        I agree. If I want to challenge my brain I will read James Joyce. Meanwhile just let me relax an hour with delightful Harry and inexplicably lovable Tommy Jefferson.

      • aleksa

        @ lila,

        I hated Tommy at the beginning, but he’s really started growing on me.

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