Review: The Deep End 1×1

One part good, to five parts toenail-curlingly bad

The Deep End

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, ABC

Oh look: another show about lawyers. Gosh, is there actually anything new that can be said or hasn’t be done with lawyers already? I mean, here we have a whole bunch of novice lawyers (Raising the Bar), being trained by their cut-throat mentors (Shark), having lots of jolly whacky fun together (Boston Legal), getting worried about their relationships (Ally McBeal) and worrying about the little guy and doing good (Eli Stone).

All done before.

So like cop shows, if you’re going to have a new lawyer show, it’s largely about the mix and the vibe it gives out, rather than because you’re expecting anything truly original.

The Deep End is a curious mix. It’s about one part fun and decent characters and actors to five parts toenail-curlingly poorly written dialogue and situations. Still, it does have two very big things going for it: Billy Zane and Clancy Brown.

In a city where wealth and power rule, everyone strives to make it to the top. For five eager and attractive law associates, being accepted into one of Los Angeles’ most prestigious law firms is the first step on their way up. But as they soon realize, the law offices of Sterling are far more cutthroat than they could have ever imagined and they must fight for themselves and their clients to stay afloat in these shark infested waters.

These young and impressionable associates are immediately thrown into cases and forced to deal with the emotional and ethical decisions that come with the job they’ve worked so hard for. Dylan (Matt Long, Jack and Bobby) is given an impossible pro bono custody case, Beth (Leah Pipes, Sorority Row) keeps mum when a 90-year-old man signs an agreement thinking that she’s his daughter, Liam (Ben Lawson, Neighbours) must get a client to sign with the firm under false pretenses, Addy (Tina Majorino, Big Love) finally gets some attention from her boss when she speaks her mind, and Malcolm (Mehcad Brooks, True Blood) gets off on the wrong foot when he is hired outside of the firm’s traditional process.

While these five ambitious associates struggle to adjust their appetites and ideals to the fast-paced demands of their jobs, they’re faced with the warring partners at Sterling who hold the keys to their future, and a reluctant mentor, Rowdy (Norbert Leo Butz), who tries to guide them and the firm through the trenches. For Dylan, saving face with one partner in particular is much more difficult after he falls for the firm’s paralegal—unbeknownst to him, she’s already in bed with firm partner Cliff Huddle (Billy Zane, Titanic), who is married to fellow partner Susan Oppenheim (Nicole Ari Parker), and fighting for the soul of the firm with its namesake, Hart Sterling (Clancy Brown, Carnivale).

Is it any good?
The first five minutes were poor enough that lovely wife and I were very tempted to turn it off and watch something else instead. But we soldiered on and we’re almost glad we did. There were enough interesting moments that just about justified the crud we had to sit through to get to them.

There is a motley collection of characters here, all desperate to get on with their jobs, be evil and/or shag. New lawyer Dylan is the apparent hero of the piece, since we follow him for much of the first episode. This is despite the fact he’s easily the most boring character and Matt Long gives the most boring performance of all the ensemble – which makes it fitting that Dylan should have a thing for the dullest Annie of any version of Life on Mars (Rachelle LeFevre). Addy is also majorly dull, so let’s not bother talking about her.

Beth has her moments and Leah Pipes does at least know how to be interesting, so she transcends her equally worthy, dull script (she has a few more interesting moments towards the end, unconnected to her case). Most interesting of the young lawyers is Liam. Now apart from the fact he’s explicitly Australian (he’s called ‘dingo breath’ at one point), he’s been to both Oxford and Cambridge. What, no decent law schools in Australia? That feels a bit schizophrenic, as though the writers wanted a Brit or couldn’t tell the difference between Australians and Brits. Either way, does having been to both Oxford and Cambridge help you practise US law?

Nevertheless, despite this odd background for the character, Ben Lawson’s performance is naturalistic and fun, the character’s near sex addiction is entertaining and it allows for some welcome close-to-the-knuckle humour. I imagine in later episodes, he’ll get more of the focus if the producers have any sense.

Life at the top
The show itself splits between the “life at the bottom” new arrivals and the “life at the top” senior partners. Here we have Clancy Brown (excellent, but starting to Shatnerise a little), Billy Zane (delightfully malevolent, but clearly restraining himself) and Nicole Ari Parker (shouldn’t be allowed to act). Brown is the returning partner who’d like the firm to return to its imagined roots in pro bono work and helping the little guy; Zane is the “Prince of Darkness” who loves money and work for big corporates – he doesn’t care who gets screwed over, as long as he makes a profit. He’s also married to Parker and cheats on her with “dull Annie”, something that makes for some truly atrocious dialogue.

Indeed, although we should cut it some slack for being a pilot episode and wanting to plot dump everything as quickly as possible, we do have some truly mesmerisingly bad lines: “If you think your photographic memory and perfect GPA are going to help you here…” “You are an incredibly brilliant and tenacious lawyer…” I don’t want to think about how many combined eye rolls we managed to clock up watching this episode.

When the show deals with life being a bit rubbish for new hires, the general shagging that’s going on and the internecine politics of the firm, it’s quite fun. But the dialogue is shameful and whenever it starts trying to be worthy, it’s actually mind-blowingly bad, with evil people turning suddenly good and holding hands.


Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with it until episode three, but I’m not recommending it for now.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.