TV Reviews : 'Great Defender': Whimsical Drama

If you haven't had your fill of lawyers on television--actual and otherwise--you might want to tune in Fox's whimsical new drama series, "The Great Defender." Then again, you might not, for its humor and plots are thin and its characters are overbearing stereotypes.

Other than that. . . .

The series title refers to the music and text of Larry H. Parker-style television ads ("If you need a lawyer, call the best--me!") run by Boston protagonist Lou Frischetti (Michael Rispoli), a disheveled, disorderly, do-anything-to-win advocate whose sleazy, contemptible courtroom antics belie a heart of--yes--gold. He accepts food, in lieu of fees, from his poorer clients.

Bracketed by absurd courtroom sequences, the premiere pits the coarse, resourceful Lou against a silk-stocking Beacon Hill law firm that, predictably, is no match for the tactics of its swaggering, street-savvy opponent. The big loser in this blue collar-versus-blueblood clash is young Crosby Caufield III (Peter Krause), a snip of an Ivy League lawyer whose snobby disdain of Frischetti can mean only one thing: They'll wind up being close colleagues and pals.

When the uptown law firm's admiring senior partner (Richard Kiley) makes Frischetti an offer that he cavalierly dismisses ("Could you picture me, Lou Frischetti, on Beacon Hill?"), you know his relocation is a done deal.

Accompanying him will be his seductive investigator (Kelly Rutherford) and his mother, Pearl (Rhoda Gemignani), whose mouthy might as his receptionist is the premiere's only source of humor.

Visitor: "Buzz Mr. Frischetti."

Pearl: " Hey, Lou! He's buzzed."

At least "The Great Defender" doesn't play favorites. The second episode tackles a stolen kidney scam, with Lou making the medical profession appear as ridiculous as he does the legal profession.

* "The Great Defender" premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday on Fox (Channels 11 and 6).

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