Back to the Books
Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) are lawyers who act like frat boys. In Franklin & Bash, they run a not-particularly-successful law practice out of the Los Angeles bachelor pad they share. We meet them as they’re waiting for car accidents to happen in front of a video billboard. Their case will be built on the idea that the buxom blonde writhing on the screen at a major intersection is distracting drivers and causing accidents.
It sounds like a decent opening for a show about a couple of mildly sleazy ambulance chasers. But the set-up is just a tease.
In fact, Franklin & Bash spends a lot of time in the courtroom. Here the guys prove to be iconoclastic rabble-rousers. Except that they don’t seem to have much handle on the law, which makes them seem more like sideshow barkers. When they win a case, you half expect them to slip out the back door before everyone realizes that they’ve been conned.
Franklin and Bash argue the distracted driver case by having the model take off her shirt on the witness stand. Then, they point out that the judge, jury, and other lawyers are staring at her breasts instead of listening to the cross-examination. Instead of getting them held in contempt, this unconventional defense catches the attention of Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell), senior partner of Infeld Daniels, a large corporate law firm. He hires the pair, apparently because he’s bored with his existing staff, which includes his smarmy nephew Damien (Reed Diamond) and a sympathetic striver, Hanna (Garcelle Beauvais).
Franklin and Bash’s new position is supposed to set up a clash between the establishment and the rebels. But they’re not really rule-breakers. They’re a couple of smartasses who’ve never faced adversity. They’re kind of like the Winklevoss twins of TV lawyers, a bit too entitled and smug to root for. The fact that they’ve been rewarded with a plum law firm gig without credible responsibilities just makes them less appealing.
Even their ostensible flaws look like scams. Basic cable has had great success with procedurals fronted by damaged characters. On shows like Monk and The Closer, the leads are tortured by the same quirks that make them great at what they do. The only thing connecting how Franklin and Bash act inside and outside the courtroom is a general willingness to wing it and hope for the best. But they’re not as charming as the show thinks they are, and their triumphs don’t seem so great.
The antics on Franklin & Bash give it a David E. Kelley vibe. No one has done more to shape the popular view of the law than Kelley. Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and L.A. Law have offered a vision of the legal profession filled with vividly quirky characters and bizarrely compelling cases, as well as iconic images, from the dancing baby to unisex bathrooms to the resurrection of William Shatner. They stretch the bounds of courtroom proceedings for the sake of entertaining TV. That said, they usually suggest someone on staff has researched the law. Franklin and Bash’s courtroom arguments sound as if the writers have watched Kelley’s shows too. We know that a defendant is innocent, so he should be acquitted based on the mere suggestion that the jury “do the right thing,” which is how many of the arguments go in Franklin and Bash’s world.
Maybe Franklin & Bash should take a different page out of Kelley’s book. The Practice was a relatively serious take on a law firm, which, after seven years on the air, spun off into the wacky Boston Legal. Given that McDowell steals pretty much every scene he’s in, maybe Franklin & Bash should just reboot now, as Infeld.