Review: Made in Jersey 1×1 (CBS)

Legally Brunette

Made in Jersey

In the US: Fridays, 9/8c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired. I’m assuming Sky Living had a fit of the vapours

Beware the juggernaut, my son!

The juggernaut – aka CBS – is the goliath of TV. It dominates the ratings. It had oodles of cash. It can do pretty much what it likes. And if you don’t like that, it’ll run all over you.

The newest trick CBS appears to have discovered is to take existing programmes, file the serial numbers off, bolt on a procedural and then call them its own. This season, it’s already deployed its own version of Sherlock as Elementary. Vegas – not to be confused with NBC’s Las Vegas, but easily confused with its The Playboy Club as well as A&E’s Longmire – emerged blinking into the moonlight last week and on Friday, we got Made in Jersey.

Now at first sight, you might not spot what Made in Jersey obviously rips off. After all, the lead character in this legal show, in which a street-smart Jersey girl gets her big break in a Manhattan law firm, isn’t blonde (hint, hint).

But by the end of the episode – in which her exciting knowledge of hairstyling products is used to prove that the student accused of murdering her professor is innocent and that despite everyone’s belief that she’s an airhead, she really can be a lawyer – you’ll be going, “Oh, so that’s what CBS couldn’t get the rights to cheaply! Legally Blonde!”

Because that’s what we have here: Legally Blonde with hair dye but without any humour, and with a legal procedural element bolted on. Another triumph for CBS’s assimilation department.

Are there any redeeming features to the show? Well, at a push, since it’s clearly not the dialogue, plotting, plausibility or characterisation of Made in Jersey that is going to save it, I’d have to say it’s got one thing going for it, other than Kyle MacLachlan looking very bewildered by the whole thing: for the first time in a long while, we have a US TV show that’s about class.

Here’s a trailer:

MADE IN JERSEY is a drama about a young working-class woman who uses her street smarts to compete among her pedigreed Manhattan colleagues at a prestigious New York law firm. Martina Garretti finds her firm’s cutthroat landscape challenging, but what she lacks in an Ivy League education she more than makes up for with tenacity and blue-collar insight. After just a few weeks, firm founder Donovan Stark takes note of Martina’s ingenuity and resourcefulness, as does third-year chair Nolan Adams, who is part of Manhattan’s royal literati; Riley Prescott, a second-year at Stark & Rowan and the daughter of the former U.S. Ambassador to Sweden; her sassy secretary, Cyndi Vega; and River, a former LAPD detective turned firm investigator. With the support of her big Italian family, including her sexy older sister Bonnie and her encouraging mother Darlene, Martina is able to stay true to her roots as a bold, passionate lawyer on the rise in a new intimidating environment.

Is it any good?
Meh. Not really. Like most CBS procedurals, it’s been drained of charisma and personality before it even got to the pilot stage. Certainly, as a legal drama, it lacks the pre-requisites of a grasp of the law, a gripping story and a clever plot resolution.

What it has instead is the plot of Legally Blonde, with an East Coast rather than a West Coast stereotype as its heroine: unlikely young female lawyer whom everyone stereotypes as an idiot, gets the attention of the big bosses thanks to her in-depth knowledge of trivia and fashion; she then gets to work on the big case, much to the distain of the posh people she works with, being nice to other working class people and doing detective work to help the obviously innocent, falsely accused young woman, with whom she bonds because of their similar circumstances. She reveals that an in-depth knowledge of hair-care products is a useful skill when wanting to prove the innocence of a client. And then, in a somewhat bumbling first court appearance, she manages to wrong foot a witness using her special knowledge of cell phones and stuff, thus proving that hard work pays off and stereotypes are wrong.

Unfortunately, to make it obviously not Legally Blonde, they’ve taken out all the fun bits, removed its smarter, more feminist touches, and thrown in whatever else they could find in their toolbox of tricks: stereotypes about people from New Jersey, who are universally working class, apparently. All the women seem to dress like they’re in a 1970s TV show and it’s in colour for the first time and all the men are heavy investors in branded sportswear. They also don’t have conversations – they shout in grating, nasal cyborg voices, at each other.

Actually, I doubt there’s a single authentic New Jersey accent in the entire bunch, especially not from star Janet Montgomery, who’s from Bournemouth and is best known from kids show Short Change and the second season of Human Target. They all sort of veer from North Jersey to Brooklyn and round a few other areas along the way, as well.

It’s also very hard to watch a show like Made in Jersey after having watched Suits, which shows in quite some detail and with far more nuance than Made in Jersey the nuances of both being a lawyer and class within the profession. Where Made In Jersey has mean upper middle class lawyers accusing our heroine of ‘talking townie’, Suits gives us the exclusion of not having been to the right school, not knowing the right club, not knowing the words to the right song and more. It shows us what a first year lawyer should know and what they won’t; it shows us how badly decimated a newly qualified lawyer can be by a skilled opponent. Made in Jersey thinks a hope and a dream will make the big world go away, and that people will take you seriously as a lawyer no matter what suit you wear.

But even though it’s as realistic as a Lego diorama, Made in Jersey does at least address class. It does talk about opportunities, discrimination and expectations – what keeps some people down – which is a lot more than you get on the average US TV show.

Other than that class sensitivity, Montgomery’s sparky performance, the occasional bit of female insight and Kyle MacLachlan about as invested in mimesis as he was in Portlandia, there’s very little to like about Made in Jersey. It’s predictable, stale and lacking in any real distinguishing qualities. Which, as we saw with Elementary, is what happens if you file away anything remarkable about the concept from which you’re stealing in an effort not to appear too similar.