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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Harry's Law finds the "Gorilla My Dreams"

     NBC's Harry's Law goes into some deep, moral issues with "Gorilla My Dreams." While duck hunting, Harry (Kathy Bates) and Tommy (Christopher McDonald) meet a young woman (Emily Rose, Haven, Brothers & Sisters) who is harboring an escaped gorilla. The zoo wants the animal back, but with an IQ near 90, and demonstrable self-awareness, communication skills, and emotion, the woman argues he belongs somewhere more kind. In the meantime, Adam (Nathan Corddry) defends a high school crush (Smallville's Erica Durance) who, after being abused and raped by her own husband, dresses up as Wonder Woman and beats on abusive spouses.

     First, the gorilla (pun intended) in the room in "Gorilla My Dreams." The gorilla is an obvious puppet, which does distract and take away from the story. Couldn't the series have hired a trained animal instead? Sure, the gorilla is required to do a fair amount of acting that might make it hard for a simple animal, but it would look far better. Also, no need to say the long name of that made up Cincinnati zoo so many times. The message is clear: Harry's Law doesn't want to be sued by the real Cincinnati Zoo.

     That aside, it's a fascinating story! Apparently, some European countries have already granted the great apes personhood in the eyes of the law. And why not? If they can think, reason, and communicate, doesn't that qualify them to deserve treatment above that of livestock? Yes, the law sees them as property, but perhaps they shouldn't be. Admittedly, that would make it hard for zoos and medical researchers to continue to use them in the manner they do. But that could be a good thing, too. If mankind is causing suffering of creatures how can feel it, be upset about it, and process what is happening, it doesn't seem right. One look into those big, black, mournful eyes, and there is no doubt in the viewer's mind that this monkey deserves to have his feelings taken into consideration.

     However, unlike David E. Kelley's previous legal dramedy, Boston Legal, a fantastic show, by the way, Harry's Law gets a little more realistic with these far-out cases. Harry loses, despite her best efforts, and the ape is returned to the zoo. This makes total sense from the standpoint of the judge, as there is no precedent in the American courtroom, and a TV series isn't likely to change that in the real world. Harry's Law would rather point out the flaws in the system and make fans grieve over the injustice then deliver a feel-good ending. This deserves kudos, because it is socially responsible. The message may resonate with someone who can change things, which would be a wonderful legacy to leave behind. And if it does, Harry, who vows to keep fighting for this particular ape, can revisit the case down the line and reach that happy ending yet.

     The second case in "Gorilla My Dreams" will resonate even more strongly. The justice system is feeling abused spouses, who have a hard time standing up to their tormentors, and an even harder time getting charges to stick. With little recourse, it's inspiring that a vigilante would rise up to offer protection. The reasonable arguments about why this cannot be allowed do ring true. However, that doesn't change the fact that something within the system is broken and needs fixing. As such, again, Harry's Law makes an issue out of something that isn't right in the world, hoping to shed a little light on it so that people may stand up and protest.

     Now, one may argue that Harry's Law is "just" a television show, and its sole purpose is to entertain, not spark societal change. But reviewing the body of Kelley's work, it seems obvious that there are other motivations as well. Plus, with the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, now may be the perfect time to embark on such a mission. Current events have left the world hungry for positive action and a shift towards fairness. What better time to deliver a legal series to the airwaves that understands these feelings, and seeks to address them? Harry's Law might be a legal procedural, but it's a hell of a good one, and hopefully what is going on in the world at large will feed the show's success, and vice versa.

     Also, there were some escaped exotic animals on Ohio recently, so good pull from the headlines!

    From a purely television standpoint, it must also be mentioned that "Gorilla My Dreams" is packed to the gills with fantastic guest stars. Besides Durance and Rose, Tony Plana (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives) plays the judge deciding the vigilante case, Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager) is an expert that testifies for the firm, and Bill Smitrovich (Kelley's The Practice) is Harry's courtroom opponent. Plus, Matt Servitto returns as Judge Kirkland for Harry's case, and he is always welcome. The fact that this show attracted so much talent for just one episode, and not even an event or sweeps episode, should overtly hint that something wonderful is happening here.

    Watch Harry's Law Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

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