The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
here were a lot of things stacked against “Canterbury’s Law” when it first premiered on Fox in the early months of 2008, but the greatest was the fact that people kept wanting to summarize it with the same nutshell phrase: it’s like “House,” but instead of a cranky doctor, it’s a cranky lawyer. It’s the kind of description that can kill a show before it ever gets on the air, because it immediately removes those who don’t like “House” from its viewership, but it also has the potential to keep some of the people who do like “House” away as well, because, really, how many irascible characters can you stand to watch every week?
Apparently, only one -- and it wasn’t Elizabeth Canterbury. After only six episodes, Fox pulled the plug on Julianna Margulies’ first attempt at headlining a series, though in the network’s defense, they’d originally committed to 13 episodes. The writer’s strike completely screwed up the production schedule of just about every series, however, and “Canterbury’s Law” only had the opportunity to get half a dozen episodes in the can before the entertainment industry began its forced shutdown.
So the fault for the show’s cancellation lies with the strike, then, right? Yeah, not so much.
Really, “Canterbury’s Law” has no one to blame for its demise but itself. It’s a good show, but it was never the right fit for a broadcast network. FX, maybe, but not Fox. It was just too damned dark. The lead character, Elizabeth Canterbury, is a woman who’s struggling to deal with the fact that her son disappeared some time ago and is still missing; she and her husband, Matt Furey (Aidan Quinn), have hit the rocks as a result of him blaming her – not inappropriately, as it turns out – for not paying enough attention to the boy and allowing him to be swiped from the playground. As some sort of emotional payback, Matt has cheated on Elizabeth, while Elizabeth is actually still cheating on Matt. Elizabeth is forever walking around with a chip on her shoulder, which has led to her incurring the wrath of Deputy Attorney General Zach Williams (Terry Kinney), who serves as her regular nemesis, and is trying to cut her throat at every turn. (Seriously, the guy puts Hamilton Burger to shame. He’s ruthless!) None of these are necessarily bad things in and of themselves, but they definitely didn’t make it easy to sell the show to a large audience.
“Canterbury’s Law” was way too grim for the masses, with precious little humor to lighten the mood. But setting the criticisms of darkness aside, fans of legal dramas will certainly enjoy the cases. Pruitt Taylor Vince guest stars in the show’s second episode, playing a guy who’s either psychic or crazy, and the show’s single best hour comes in Episode #4, “Sweet Sixteen,” where two teenage girls are tried for contributing to the murder of a fellow high school student that occurred as a result of their having created a “People We’d Like To See Dead” list. Unfortunately, however, there’s no closure to the storyline about Elizabeth’s missing son, and given that her emotional instability was ostensibly what was driving the show, it’s hard to know if there ever would have been.
Special Features: None, unless you count the previews of other Sony DVD releases. I’m not entirely surprised that Margulies didn’t contribute, but I would’ve expected creator Dave Erickson to offer up a commentary track on the pilot, at least. Maybe he’s too busy working on “Sons of Anarchy” these days.