FRANKLIN & BASH: SEASON 1 – DVD review

“Franklin & Bash” was promoted in the UK as “’Ally McBeal’ with balls,” and I think that’s fair. Like the popular late ‘90s series, this one is a comedy-drama involving lawyers whose antics are just a little more ballsy. But it’s also fair to say that “Franklin & Bash” owes a debt to the light-comedy private eye shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s—shows like “Magnum, P.I.,” “The Rockford Files,” and “Simon & Simon”—only updated for the gamer-and-gadget generation whose idea of the ideal job is something that allows you to party-on with all the carefree abandon of the college years.

Breckin Meyer stars as Jared Franklin, the son of famed trial lawyer Leonard “Ben” Franklin, whose best friend and legal partner is Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), a law-school pal who’s just as quirky and into the same video games and take-no-prisoners attitude toward their cases. For lawyers, their respect of the legal system is minimal, and it’s the gap between their righteous results and the madness of their methods that provide the humor—that, and a chronic case of anti-authority irreverence.

The legal eagles on their team are standard issue for sitcoms and dramedies these days: an Indian agoraphobic porn addict/tech wiz (Kumail Nanjiani) and a black female ex-con (Dana Davis). And to expand their world of foils to play off of, the creators had these anti-establishment types hired by the biggest law firm around, because the head (Malcolm McDowell) was impressed by their results—though his nephew and junior partner Damien (Reed Diamond) is nothing short of jealous of the new young blood.

In the first episode, the guys are bantering as they watch out the window of an old-time diner. You see, they’ve positioned themselves across from a ginormous billboard featuring a sexy lingerie model, and when they hear a crash they’re off and running with their business cards—not to defend the poor woman in the SUV who was rear-ended, but to represent the guy at fault in a lawsuit attacking the makers of the billboard. And to win the case? They hire a stripper to take off her top in the courtroom, “distracting” everyone so much that no one can remember what was said . . . and, point made.

“What would you like to see in court that you’ve never seen?” the show’s creator asks in one of the short bonus features. That was their guiding principle, and each episode includes another outrageous moment in legal proceedings. Franklin and Bash are obviously bright, but their frat-boy antics and mindset do for them what the aw-shucks country-boy schtick did for the sheriff in the old “Andy Griffith Show”—causing people to underestimate them.

A word about those antics. When you watch this series on TNT an episode at a time, with a week between shows, I can see where it would be entertaining as heck. But when you watch them one after the other, the formula pokes through and the guys can get a little tiresome.

Still, it’s an entertaining show that’s a throwback to simpler TV times. Ten episodes are contained on three single-sided discs that, unfortunately, are stacked on a spindle. On the back of the DVD cover are descriptions of the episodes:

1. “Pilot.” Winning a high-profile case leads streetwise lawyers Peter Bash and Jared Franklin to joinn Stanton Infeld at his corporate law firm. While representing a prostitute who claims that she and her “client” were actually in a relationship, the brash attorneys defend a heroic airline pilot from being undermined by a scheming company executive.

2. “She Came Upstairs to Kill Me.” Infelt enlists Peter and Jared to help defend Isabella Kaplowitz (Natalie Zea) against charges that she used sex to kill her elderly billionaire husband. But when their attempt to disqualify the judge for wagering on the case falls flat, Franklin and Bash enlist the late billionaire’s best friend (Fred Willard) to prove Isabella’s innocence.

3. “Jennifer of Troy.” Peter and Jared’s lawsuit on behalf of Jennifer Putnam (Jillian Bell), a woman who claims she was fired for being too sexy, gets complicated when they discover that she is quite plain. Meanwhile, Infelt appeals to a powerful Chinatown business council to salvage the reputation of Peter and Jared’s irreplaceable computer maven.

4. “Bro-Bono.” As Jared and Carmen (Dana Davis) team up in a divorce case to undercut millionaire adventurer Rick Paxton’s (Harry Hamlin) playboy image, Peter’s drunken driving defense exposes high school classmate Danny Dubois’s secret life. But when an elderly witness is discredited by revelations of her shady past, it’s Jared’s outrageous courtroom stunt that exonerates Danny.

5. “You Can’t Take It with You.” A family feud over a renowned World Series home run ball owned by Duncan Morrow (Robert Pine) lands Jared in court against his dad (Beau Bridges); Peter and Hanna (Garcelle Beauvais) represent Ronny Streppi (Tom Arnold), a reality TV star who claims the show’s producers unfairly portrayed him as a bad parent.

6. “Big Fish.” After agreeing to help a reviled and terminally ill financier (Jason Alexander) repay the investors he defrauded, Franklin and Bash face an ethical thicket when Lang changes his mind after his diagnosis is discovered to be a mistake. Meanwhile, Karp and Hanna use Pindar to persuade an eccentric multimillionaire businesswoman (Sarayu Rao) to hire their law firm.

7. “Franklin vs. Bash.” Peter and Jared agree to represent Amber North (Jud Tylor) and Simone Winters (Marisa Petroro), two pole-dancing teachers accused of jewelry theft by their wealthy client. In another courtroom, Hanna and Karp argue on behalf of a 13-year-old boy who is suing his father for the right to kayak down the Amazon river alone.

8. “The Bangover.” When Infeld’s niece (Anabella Casanova) is arrested for drug possession during a visit to their house, Peter and Jared work to gain her freedom while keeping the news from her uncle. Meanwhile, a surprise visit from an ex-con boyfriend puts Carmen in danger of being jailed for parole violation. Kathy Najimy and Tommy Chong guest star.

9. “Bachelor Party.” Peter is asked to defend an ex-girlfriend’s (Claire Coffee) fiancé (James Van Der Beek) in a prostitution case. And while representing a teacher accused of having sex with a student (Alexandra Breckenridge) pits Jared against his old high school headmaster, the discovery of a long-missing body in Alaska spells trouble for Infeld.

10. “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” While being manipulated by a scheming law partner (Tricia Helfer), Franklin and Bash must prove Infeld is innocent of murdering his best friend during a mountain climbing expedition 15 years ago. Hanna lends a hand when a younger challenger and a pair of greedy promoters threaten an aging professional wrestler’s career.

Video:
There’s nothing exception and nothing deficient about the video and audio presentation. The video has the look we’ve come to expect from contemporary TV shows on DVD, with only a slight amount of grain, nice contrast levels, and true-looking colors. It’s presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Audio:
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles in English, English SDH, and French.

Extras:
There are a few short bonus features on each disc, with an average runtime of 2-4 minutes each. They’re all pretty standard: “F&B: Behind the Scenes,” “F&B and Friendship,” “F&B: Creating the Cases,” “Behind the Behind,” “Working for Franklin & Bash,” “Malcolm McDowell Office Tour,” “Man Cave Tour,” “F&B Commercials: Bilingual,” “F&B Commercials: Legalese,” and “F&B Commercials: Hot Tub.” Also included is a short gag reel.

Bottom line:
It’s “Ally McBeal” meets “Simon & Simon” for the gamer-and-gadget generation: Breezy, irreverent, and blurring work and play the way comedy and drama blend into dramedy. Plork? Nah.

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