There’s a familiar feeling to this half-procedural, half-character driven show centred around a cantankerous, cynical man who has minions who do his grunt work and take his abuse. Even the snappy banter is reminiscent of House, with Sharkisms like “there’s no team in I.” But while Shark is clearly a cousin of the FOX medical drama, it isn’t a clone.
James Woods is impressive as Sebastian Stark, a cut-throat lawyer who discovers his conscience after a horrific outcome to a successful defence. He crosses the fence to bring his sometimes unethical tactics to the prosecutors office under D.A. Jessica Devlin (Jeri Ryan).
Besides Stark, the only character to come alive even slightly in the pilot is his daughter, Julie (Danielle Panabaker), who acts as his moral compass. Stark is genuinely a jerk, but he also genuinely cares about his daughter, and, when he tries, can genuinely care about justice rather than simply winning a case.
The central case is a pop singer accused of killing a man after he threatens to leak their sex tape, an act she says was self-defence. We don’t get a lot of meaningful contact with people involved in the case, so the main conflict is centred around the personalities – Stark and his family, Stark and his minions – as well as the conflict within Stark himself, between his desire to win at all costs and the desire to be a better person.
Directed by Spike Lee, the pilot demonstrates its strength through the powerful performance by Woods and the tension between his work life and his personal life, with each affecting the other. The weakness is that everything else is overshadowed by those elements. The case is only moderately interesting, and the supporting characters are not even that yet. Ryan especially seems superfluous, and the many junior lawyers barely distinguish themselves beyond very broad strokes.
Still, even if time doesn’t develop the plots or secondary characters much more, Shark is well worth seeing just for the complexity of the central character and the sight of Woods sinking his teeth into that intriguing role.
Shark premieres Thursday, Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. on CBS.