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TV Review: Lowe out of 'West Wing' and into 'Lyon's Den'

Sunday, September 28, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Just in case you've been living under a rock -- or simply avoiding news about TV -- NBC's "The Lyon's Den" makes clear from its earliest scenes that Rob Lowe is totally and completely done with "The West Wing."

 
 

'The Lyon's Den'

When: 10 tonight on NBC
Starring: Rob Lowe

   
 
 

Lowe, who stars in Washington-set "Lyon's Den" as a lawyer, is shown jogging away from the White House. Later, he declares, "I have zero interest in politics."

We get it, we get it. "The West Wing," which gave the pretty boy a Serious Actor veneer, is in Lowe's rear-view mirror.

Lowe signed on to "West Wing" when it was envisioned that he'd be the star and President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) would just pop in every six episodes. Obviously, producers opted to go a different direction, Lowe's role became just one in an ensemble and a star was forlorn.

He gets the spotlight back in "Lyon's Den," but the most interesting parts of the show are the Lowe-less scenes. There's nothing wrong with Lowe. He's a fine actor, an easy-to-like leading man. But the meatiest dialogue and the juiciest scenes go to Lowe's co-stars, particularly Kyle Chandler ("Homefront") and Frances Fisher ("The Unforgiven").

They play lawyer Grant Rashton and his assistant, Brit Hanley. He's a schemer she's his willing accomplice. After the mysterious death of senior partner Daniel Barrington (Kevin Cooney) -- did he jump to his death or was he pushed? -- Grant sends Brit out on reconnaissance. She returns empty-handed.

"You're worthless," he tells her.

"You're a bastard," she snaps back.

"You're fired," he says.

"Oh, no, not again, whatever will I do," she deadpans.

"Tough old b--," Grant mutters.

"Sweet talk will get you nowhere," Brit says, sashaying out of the room.

Phew!

That's "The Lyon's Den" at its soapiest and most intriguing. But those moments are sprinkled through scenes of Lowe as noble Jack Turner doing good. He works in the pro bono law clinic of the firm Lyons, LaCrosse, and Levine, helping the poor, downtrodden outcasts along with longtime friend George Riley (Matt Craven).

In the premiere, Turner strives to aid a Nigerian woman sentenced to death for infidelity after she was raped and gave birth to a child. In the meantime, managing partner Terrence Christianson (James Pickens Jr.) demands Turner replace the deceased Barrington or the pro bono clinic will close. He wants Turner for his clean reputation and his pedigree: Turner's father, played by recurring guest star Rip Torn, is a powerful U.S. senator.

Turner waves off the appointment until the Nigerian woman in the other story imparts some Important, Valuable Advice.

"Sometimes we must sacrifice our own comfort for the greater good," she says. Then the sledgehammer hits Turner that he must take the job at the big, bad, scheming law firm.

Other potential back stabbers at the firm include recovering -- not for long! -- alcoholic Ariel Saxon (Elizabeth Mitchell), who's secretly sleeping with Grant. Ariel's paralegal, Jeff Fineman (David Krumholtz), wants to date her.

The final scenes, chock-full of brooding music, reveal puppet masters who appear to be pulling Turner's strings.

How much of "The Lyon's Den" will be devoted to boring do-gooder cases versus meaty internecine warfare at the firm? Series creator Remi Aubuchon said it will be a balance.

"Jack is on a journey. This particular incident that's occurred with his mentor, Dan Barrington, dying under mysterious circumstances is something that hopefully will be resolved in this first season," Aubuchon said at an NBC press conference in July. "But at the same time, I feel it's really important to have close-ended legal stories because, quite frankly, I just want that. I get crazy if I feel like I am tuning into a show and I have no idea what's going on."

Aubuchon previously worked on Fox's "24" and took away a lesson he plans to apply to "Lyon's Den": "Our rule in the writers' room is that whenever it looks like we're turning right, we should be turning left."

Perhaps they applied that theory to casting, too. Kyle Chandler has been consistently cast as the upstanding good guy throughout his career, including his leading role in CBS's "Early Edition." Casting him against type in "Lyon's Den" was a smart move that defies audience expectations.

It will take time to see whether "The Lyon's Den" is able to do that on a regular basis, but with tonight's premiere, it's off to a decent start.


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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