John Sayles wrote "Shannon's Deal" (Sunday at 9 p.m., Channels 4, 36 and 39), a pilot that didn't make the cut for next fall. As might be expected from the creator of such offbeat films as "Return of the Secaucus Seven," "The Brother From Another Planet" and "Eight Men Out," it's a fairly rich script for its genre.
That genre is lawyer show, scrappy loner subdivision. Here we have a guy (Jamey Sheridan) who, fed up with corporate law and wracked by gambling debts and a failed marriage, puts out his own shingle--in a fleabag building occupied by ambulance chasers. Shannon is no chaser--of ambulances or anything else. He appears willing to sit in his office and theorize about poker. But desperate women, anxious about their imprisoned boyfriends, come to him--and he becomes entangled in their cases.
The plot ventures into the arena of right-wing zealots who cooperate with drug runners in order to ship arms to the Contras--an unusually ambitious departure for this kind of show--and it doesn't paint Shannon as a pillar of political rectitude. The decision he makes near the end of the story is highly debatable. Sayles scores points for making Shannon less than a shining white knight and for creating a gallery of interesting and sometimes amusing subsidiary characters.
Some of those characters, however, are developed more predictably than we might expect from Sayles; we can feel the effort to make this show as colorful as possible despite its drab milieu. Furthermore, Shannon's adventures get a little farfetched. Although Sheridan's Shannon is never less than charming, his tendency to view everything as an analogy to a game of cards becomes tiresome.
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis wrote and arranged the score, brooding and evocative, and Lewis Teague directed for producer Stan Rogow.