In Australia: Thursdays, 8.33pm, ABC
There’s something about an overly clever title that suggests the show itself isn’t going to be very good. A stupid title is obviously a big warning klaxon but while a clever title can be a fair indicator of quality, an overly clever title suggests more thought has gone into the title than the show itself.
Newton’s Law. Ha, ha. Look at that. It’s a TV series about a lawyer and her name is Josephine Newton, so Newton’s Law. Gettit?
So klaxons went off as soon as I saw the title – justified klaxons, since Newton’s Law is pretty weak stuff (well, G is 6.674×10-11N, ha, ha), despite having been created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger, the originators of the much-loved Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
It stars the almost equally loved Claudia Karvan (The Secret Life of Us, Spirited, Puberty Blues, Love My Way) as the eponymous Newton, a former high-flying barrister turned suburban solicitor now undergoing a separation as her globe-trotting eco-warrior husband (Brett Tucker) is never home. Despite having helped the down-trodden for over a decade, her offices are firebombed by a hacked-off client, leaving Karvan in a potentially parlous state. But former sparring partner and admirer Toby Schmitz comes to the rescue, asking her to join his plush legal firm, co-run by Andrew McFarlane (Glitch), where she can once again resume the bar and recapture her glory days. However, her do-gooding spirits aren’t so easily tamed and by the end of the first episode, she’s back helping her former clients, albeit from her old firm’s new offices in an abandoned car wash.
The show’s stated ambition is to be a sort of Upstairs Downstairs for the Australian legal system, counterpointing the daily work of barristers working for rich clients against that of solicitors working for impoverished Joe Public. However, there’s little of that in this first episode, which is more concerned with setting up the upstairs and the downstairs companies, Karvan’s relationship with husband and teenage daughter, her “will they, won’t they?” relationship with Schmitz, and her trainwreck friendship with her trainwreck business partner (Georgina Naidu).
All of which should be lovely and fluffy, but the show clunks along like a Ford Cortina with a broken gearbox. Karvan is long-suffering, a great friend, a put-upon wife, much sought after, knows all the right crowd and defends the little people while sticking it to the man, whenever possible – yeah! Right on! Indeed, both producers and characters are in thrall to Newton’s supposed brilliance.
But actually, Newton’s Law never really demonstrates why anyone would consider her so amazing, beyond the fact she had a cool car. Surely someone with a cool old American muscle car must be a top legal mind as well, though, right?
The legal side is, at least, a bit more promising than all this girl power by numbers, starting us off with a plot lift straight out of 12 Angry Men, with a young man accused of murder and a nearby witness willing to swear she saw everything. But did she what she thought she saw?
While the trappings of the Australian legal system are at least more familiar to UK viewers than the average US legal drama’s, making Newton’s Law potentially more appealing, none of it is any more realistic than the average US legal drama and it’s all very sub-Crownies. Indeed, as with Janet King, Karvan ultimately saves the day not through her marvellous knowledge of the law or rhetoric but investigating the crime herself by ferreting around behind bookcases and discovering incriminating envelopes. Maybe that’s how Karvan can even contemplate doing both jobs, given the ridiculous hours both barristers and solicitors have to put in, since it’s clearly not going to be by looking through the statute books.
Newton’s Law is the kind of thing that should play well on daytime TV, probably after the latest Father Brown has aired. But it lacks any edge, USP or fire that would make it work as a primetime drama – or worth seeking out, rather than merely watching while you do the ironing.