Saturday, October 15, 2011

Three Cheers for 'Harry'...umm, Make that 2 1/2....

Harry's Law, for any non-TV buffs out there, is a fairly new (since January 2011) lawyer drama.  to a large degree, the premise is, if not quite cliched, at least comfortably familiar.  Harry is tough, angry, filled with horror at the inequalities in a legal system in which the wealthy get by with crimes and the poor get imprisoned for lack of adequate legal representation.

what makes this show different is that harry is not some gorgeous young, or even middle-aged, man; she's a 62 year old woman, and she looks like it. she's grey-haired and stocky and wears comfortable pants suits.  she takes no bullshit from anyone.  she is played--wonderfully, need i say?--by Kathy Bates, who has always  looked like a real woman in the real world, not like someone who advertises hair color and tells us she's 'worth it.'

i haven't watched it much, because it always seems to be clashing with something else i want to watch, but i've been trying to catch up recently.

this week's episode was especially interesting to me for two reasons.  one is that its guest star was camryrn manheim, another terrific actor and a frankly fat woman.  

the other thing that made it outstanding was that it explored the phenomenon of teenage bullying, in the all-too-real context of a high-school lesbian's suicide when she has been publicly outed in a nasty classmate's popular blog.  the hitch here is that harry's client, unexpectedly, is not the family of the dead girl, but the vicious blogger.  though horrified by the girl's act, she sees something deeper in the whole tale.  reading the entire blog, she sees that every entry is ugly, furious, potentially hurtful.  in that very augliness, harry sees another tragic story--a victimized, 'different' student who has chosen a dangerous way to fight back, without looking at the possible consequences.  with manheim as the prosecutor, we see the overarching tragedy of a society's acceptance of viciousness.  each lawyer is passionate in her fight against the forces that create, allow, and nurture cruelty.  fighting each other, they are clearly both right.  the combination of their summaries serves as a large overview of a complex social evil.  and to watch these two women as opponents in what is never remotely a cat fight, and to see the dignity and intelligence that they convey in spite of their failure to to look fetchingly sexy, as we have come to expect from our tv professional women, was refreshing.

so why begrudge the episode that 1/2 cheer?  because in the speech the writers have given harry,  as she blames the injustice of society that creates characters like the pathetic blogger, among her list of examples of politicians, actors, newscasters etc,who are  rewarded for viciousness, she includes in the same category rush limbaugh and keith olberman.

i am, it is true, an olberman fan, as i am of his fellows on his former channel MSNBC. i like his politics, and i don't like limbaugh's, which would always give me a preference for olberman.  but succumbing to the smug and beloved notion that olberman and rachel maddow are the leftwing equivalents of limbaugh  and glen beck is cheap, especially on a show in which we are begged to look at  complexity.
the similarities between the [essentially] Fox and MSNBC shows begin and end with their structures: hour long programs using commentary and guest interviewees from a very clear political perspective.  the differences are much greater than that surface appearance.  i have seen olberman be angry, sarcastic, and withering in his contempt for most conservative positions.  he clearly enjoys attacking right wing spokesman bill o'reilly.  but except for that---and i'm pretty sure o'reilly can handle it--olberman is rarely rude.  more importantly, as much as he espouses one framework of belief, he doesn't lie. when olberman tells you that, say, Congressman Jones told the newspaper reporter that he didn't care about the union organizers,  you can be pretty sure that that's what congressman jones told the newspaper reporters.  whether you agree with olberman that the congressman was wrong is another question.  but the facts he states to buttress or explain his position are true.  in the rare event he inadvertently gives any misinformation, he apologizes on air for it.  beck and limbaugh and o'reilly either invent facts or take them from careless sources.  and they do spread hate.

so one word off-base in an-hour long episode of a fine series? why am i complaining?  because it undercuts what harry's law is about; it takes an easy potshot that belies its complexity.  in a less fine show, i'd be annoyed by such a line.  but in a really quality show, i'm both annoyed and disappointed. so, i think, would harry be, if she were real.

1 comment:

Bob Lamm said...

I haven't watched the show. But the awful comment you've described (equating Keith Olberman with Rush Limbaugh) is no surprise on a mainstream television series. They're looking for the biggest possible audience and don't have the courage or integrity to just name Limbaugh there without unfairly dragging in some liberal target for phony "balance."

Moreover, from long experience, I can tell you that anyone with feminist and/or progressive politics is heading for these kinds of disappointments if she or he chooses to invest time in any series created by David Kelley. Without question, he's very talented as a TV creator, producer, and writer. But his politics are middle of the road in many of the worst sort of ways.