Reviews

Head Cases

Samantha Bornemann

There's lots of 'adult' humor and madcap legal maneuvering. The Practice should have been this much fun.


Head Cases

Airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Chris O'Donnell, Adam Goldberg, Rhea Seehorn, Rockmond Dunbar, Krista Allen, Jake Cherry
Network: Fox
Amazon
"If we do this, it's not gonna be just nymphomaniacs and porn stars." "What's wrong with nymphos and porn stars?" "I'm just suggesting we slip in the occasional non-deviant."
-- Jason Payne (Chris O'Donnell) and Russell Shultz (Adam Goldberg), Just Legal

What happens when you cancel The Practice? Three off-shoot series sprout up. Viewers already know ABC's Spader-Shatner show (spinoff Boston Legal), and this fall brings two new series, both written by Practice alums, about mismatched lawyers. On the WB, Just Legal sets up a May-December pairing with a predictable procedural format. Fox's Head Cases follows two legal minds cursed with shaky sanity and is appropriately more scattered. Clients come and go, but the emphasis here is on the characters' personal lives and their relationship with each other.

And so creator Bill Chais introduces hotshot Jason Payne (Chris O'Donnell) at a moment when he's nearly naked and distinctly vulnerable. We meet him still dripping from the shower, with a face full of shaving cream, on the day his career, marriage, and family will fall apart. Right now, however, he's just worried about career, as he must deliver the closing argument in "the biggest trial of [his] life." Attempting to rehearse his closing, he suffers a panic attack.

It's a sufficiently affecting moment, suffused in blue glow and edited with jump cuts, so of course we next get proof that he's an ass. Now buttoned up and slicked back, he rushes through the kitchen ("Where the hell is my blackberry?") with only a cursory acknowledgement of his son (Jake Cherry) and is scolded by his wife Laurie (Krista Allen) into promising to show up for the afternoon's twice-rescheduled appointment with Ryan's school psychologist. No surprise, he forgets.

It's this misdeed, and not any misfire in court, that sets Jason's life unraveling. Fed up, Laurie packs his bags and changes the locks. Relocated to the Four Seasons, he rants to Laurie's answering machine until the familiar faces on the news start talking back to him: you neglected your wife, your son's in trouble, your client is corrupt and so are you. Cue the nervous breakdown and a two-month stint at a wellness center.

If this sounds dark, Head Cases is also riddled with humor, a burden falling to Adam Goldberg as Russell Shultz, the weirdo attorney Jason must get to know as a term of his probation. As his counselor (Rockmond Dunbar) explains, "I've been pairing up patients, people with different disorders, just to look out for one another, check in."

Subject to violent outbursts, Russell explodes while Jason implodes. His legal practice is a far cry from the uptight firm that drops Jason because of his nervous breakdown. Still, they've both learned to use all the tools in their arsenal in the name of a win. Russell is prone to blackmail and theft, and Jason has connections both "high" (Geraldo wants him on his show to talk about the 10th anniversary of O.J.) and low (the PIs his old firm assigned their dirty work). In one of several extended laughs, Jason calls in a favor from Dr. Ruth, and she testifies in support of Russell's argument that his client's nymphomania is a legitimate psychological disorder.

And yet, these mutual favors and lessons aside, creator/writer Bill Chais (The Practice) establishes a long-range story arc for Jason. His wife might say he can't come back ("We don't work," she tells him), but there's obviously still hope for their marriage, if only Jason can realign his priorities and start to be a real presence in his son's life.

And Russell -- the nutjob with a client Rolodex full of hookers -- is surprisingly helpful in this regard. Tagging alone on a father-son outing, he wonders what kind of father has never taken his son fishing before. "The kind of father that doesn't like fishing," Jason says. Russell's not impressed: "Sounds kinda selfish, don't you think?" he asks, and Jason's kid agrees. Russell is good, too, at mocking his partner's highbrow trappings, like the fountain in the yard of Jason's (former) home.

Through all this banter, O'Donnell and Goldberg share a witty, easy rapport. Though they're playing variations on previous characters (Jason is an update on Scent of a Woman's sensitive preppie), the contrast between these two default personas makes Head Cases feel almost fresh. Plus, there's lots of "adult" humor and madcap legal maneuvering. The Practice should have been this much fun.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Music

Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Music

Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Reviews

Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.

Reviews

'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Reviews

Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.