Sunday, 02 April 2023

TV legal themes for ‘Family Law’ and ‘So Help Me Todd’


There’s something oddly humorous about a dysfunctional family engaged in the practice of family law.

That’s exactly what happens when attorney Abigail Bianchi (Jewel Staite) ends up unwillingly having to work at her father’s firm on a probationary basis.

The new “Family Law” series on the CW network opens with Abigail dozing in her car outside a bar after a night of heavy drinking. It’s morning and she wakes up with only minutes to make it to court before her case gets dismissed.

Stumbling into the courtroom where a group of students are filming on their phones, Abigail can barely steady herself before vomiting right into the lap of her startled client. Of course, the student videos go viral and Abigail proves to be toxic.

Apparently not a novice boozer, Abigail is suspended from practicing law and can only redeem her career through a mentorship with a seasoned lawyer. The only person willing to take the assignment is her estranged father Harry Svensson (Victor Garber).

An old-school lawyer, Svensson runs a top family law firm, which also employs Abigail’s half-siblings Daniel (Zach Smadu) and Lucy (Genelle Williams), the firm’s psychologist. That Abigail had never met her half-siblings before adds to tension at the office.

Harry walked out on Abigail’s mom Joanne (Lauren Holly) when their daughter was only seven, and fathered two more children that Joanne refers to as the “rainbow-colored siblings.”

As the oldest of the three Svensson offspring, Abigail is rather condescending to Daniel and Lucy, belittling their accomplishments and status as a coping mechanism for her low standing in the office.

Eager to jump into a case, Abigail is almost certain to run afoul of her father’s condition that she stick to menial office tasks and not make waves or interject herself into litigation.

Before the first episode lays bare all the family dysfunctions, Abigail plunges into the case of a teenager desperate to find her biological father who was a sperm donor found on Craigslist.

The unaware father turns out to be a successful developer who ends up being sued for 13 years of child support, and during the trial Abigail veers off into a tangential diatribe against her own “lousy parent, an emotionally stunted and unavailable human being.”

Abigail has other issues to deal with, namely that her husband Frank (Luke Camilleri) tossed her out of the house, and her teenage daughter Sofia (Eden Summer Gilmore) remains aloof while younger son Nico (Brenden Sunderland) is more forgiving.

Since “Family Law” is a pickup of a Canadian series that’s been announced for a third season, we’ll see if it has staying power with an American audience.


The CBS network has an affinity for procedurals, and “So Help Me Todd” might fit into that category if it could figure out whether it is a detective drama or a comedy about a dysfunctional family relationship.

Show creator and executive producer Scott Prendergast informed critics during the summer press tour that the show is based on his own true story about his mother’s husband disappearing and how he helped find him.

That personal inspiration is the foundation for the first episode in which Marcia Gay Harden’s Margaret Wright, a lawyer in a Portland firm, enlists the help of her wayward son Todd (Skylar Astin) to track down her missing spouse (Mark Moses).

Todd is first seen in a supermarket stalking a single mom suspected of insurance fraud on a phony disability claim. He’s relegated to this grind after losing his private investigator license for illegal surveillance work.

Even worse, he’s living in his sister’s (Madeline Wise) garage, and his mother Margaret thinks it’s time that her errant son needs to get his professional life back on track.

There may be doubts about Todd doing investigative work for a law firm, but he soon proves his worth in unorthodox ways beyond locating a vanishing spouse.

At the firm, Todd is reconnected with old flame Susan (Inga Schlingmann), now engaged with a huge rock on her finger. He’s also sparring with overbearing researcher Lyle (Tristen J. Winger) who is more uptight than Tony Randall ever was as Felix Unger in “The Odd Couple.”

According to Scott Prendergast, his main inspiration was the quirky private detective agency in “Moonlighting,” and he counts his new series as a throwback to classic procedurals like “Hart to Hart” and “Remington Steele.”

Like others in the genre, “So Help Me Todd” has a new case every week, with plenty of red herrings and twists, and the end of each episode brings a big resolution, and Todd will be goofy at times and skate close to the edge.

Above all else, “So Help Me Todd” is a show with a light touch wrapped into a series of mysteries that work best because Marcia Gay Harden and Skylar Astin are a great team thoroughly invested in the humor and frustration of the generational divide.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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