Pilot Script Review of Lincoln Lawyer
Lincoln Lawyer was one of the highest-profile projects this year and it was one of the first big sales of the 2019-20 broadcast development season. A legal drama by the king of legal dramas, David E. Kelley, based on Michael Connelly’s series of bestselling novels: how could this have gone wrong? CBS gave it a series production commitment as soon at it went on the market last year, right before the upfronts.
How different things look a year later. We learned earlier this month that CBS isn't going forward with The Lincoln Lawyer. I can only speculate that it has something to do with the change of regime CBS just a month ago, but the decision was a total shocker that makes little sense, at least from this distance.
PILOT SCRIPT TITLE: "He Rides Again"
WRITTEN BY: David E. Kelley
DRAFT DATE: 11/14/2019 (Revised Network Draft)
PAGE COUNT: 59 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on a view of Los Angeles on a clear and quiet January night. We move to the parking garage of an office building where we meet JERRY VINCENT (48), an overworked criminal defense attorney heading towards his car. The sound of his footsteps reverberates and the quiet around unnerves him some. He gets the feeling he's being watched, not quite sure if he's just tired and his mind is playing him or if there's actually someone out there. But as he looks around, he sees nothing. He tries a timid "Hello?". Nothing again. So he finally climbs in his car, fastens his seatbelt, checks the rearview mirror... and oh shit! The mirror has been turned down. Somebody's been in the car. Or he's still in the car. His heart races now. He looks in the backseat and there's no one there. When he turns forward to start the car, there's a shadow at the window. It's the snub nose of a revolver. Boom! He's still conscious, but not for long.
Cut to: a ten year-old girl, screaming in terror. Then close on a pair of eyes. The eyes of a wounded man. As the camera pulls back, we learn they belong to MICKEY HALLER (44), who is sitting on the beach, in a full wetsuit. He's known as "The Lincoln Lawyer," but his charm and usual swagger seem to be gone. He stares out at the sea. A place he loved and which is now a place of trauma for him after a bad surfing accident a few months ago. His cellphone rings. He answers. It's LORNA TAYLOR (40), his secretary... and ex-wife. As always, she's worried about him, she also has news: JUDGE HOLDER wants to se him ASAP. She doesn't know why and since he hasn't worked on a case for quite some time, it's odd. Mickey has no other choice to go, so he takes a long shower, puts on his best Italian suit -- he has a closet full of them -- and then choose which of his three Lincoln Town Cars he'll take to his meeting. It ends up being the vintage 1963 pale blue Lincoln continental convertible, which we next see shining on the Pacific Coast Highway. He gets another call while inside, from his first wife this time, MAGGIE MCPHERSON (45), an A.D.A. known as "Maggie McFierce". She calls to remind him that he's supposed to have their daughter HAYLEY (14) for the night and that she won't tolerate another late pickup.
Arriving at the courthouse, he finds Lorna waiting for him as he's about to enter Judge Holder's office. They're both scared. Once inside, the woman he meets for the first time makes a big impression. She asks him about hs relationship with Jerry Vincent, the man killed in the teaser. He says they were colleagues and became good friends. She him that Vincent is dead, that he left his practice to him, and that that's totally legal in the state of California. Mickey is taken aback. It's horrible, but it's also his chance to finally get it back together. He had no cases a few seconds ago, and now has all of Jerry's cases, and some are high-profile, like this Hollywood producer who's accused of killing his wife and lover. It's quite the turn of events and ready or not, he has no choice but to jump right in.
COMMENTS: One of my greatest joys this development season was reading not one but two David E Kelley pilot scripts. The Big Sky (read my pilot script review) was brilliant and read like a cable/streaming drama that might be lost on network television. Lincoln Lawyer is a more polished legal drama that totally fits with broadcast, even if that's not exactly what people seem to be craving these days. Neither Bull or All Rise, CBS's latest attempts in the genre, can be considered hits, although arguably both fall a bit out of the CBS wheelhouse. One is totally devoted to make Michael Weatherly look great, while the other is a nice try to do a Shonda Rhimes' show without her. Lincoln Lawyer is more in the vein of The Good Wife, although it's not set at a law firm with multiple players surrounding the central character. It's mostly Mickey, his car, his ex-wives and his cases. And it's not a procedural.
One of those cases is closed in the pilot and is really just a good prextext to introduce one more woman in Mickey's life. Izzy is a young former addict charged with grand larceny for stealing a necklace to support her habit. She's clean now – something Mickey can relate to – and he not only gets her acquitted but lets her pay off her legal bill by working as his driver. In the book and in the movie, her character was a man and it's a smart move. All the women on the show are devoted to Mickey in one way or another. His ex-wives still love him very much and Izzy clearly has a thing going for him. (Okay, he's handsome and brilliant, and has recently been suffering, which made him vulnerable and even more charming somehow.) At first I worried that they were there simply as accessories to his story, until I realized they're all strong women who have probably contributed a lot to make him a better man. Most importantly they're good at teasing him, especially his daughter. In fact, most of the fun of the show comes from them.
Compared to Ally McBeal or Boston Legal, Lincoln Lawyer takes a more serious approach. As viewers, we don't get one second of respite. It's fast-paced and straight-forward and as always with Kelley, the dialogue is top-notch. The two other cases in the pilot are one that will be long-running, and one that's more of an investigation at this point into who killed Mickey's dear friend Jerry and why. And of course now that Mickey has taken over his practice, he's in danger too. The stakes are high. He's helped by an investigator, Cisco, a former biker gang member who happens to be Lorna's new fiancé.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The Lincoln Lawyer is a strong serialized legal drama with a central character who thinks outside the box, surrounded by equally special characters. With David E. Kelley at the helm, it's smarter and classier than your average network drama, but would have still been on-brand for CBS. On paper, this one seems like a no-brainer, but clearly fate decided otherwise. Here's hoping it lands somewhere else.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: It could have replaced All Rise on Monday nights if it were to be cancelled, paired with Bull.