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Television Review

Well-charted waters in ‘The Deep End’

Billy Zane stars as Cliff, a partner in an LA law firm, in ABC’s “The Deep End.’’ Billy Zane stars as Cliff, a partner in an LA law firm, in ABC’s “The Deep End.’’ (ABC)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 21, 2010

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You’ve been here, done this. You’ve seen the same picture painted on the very same numbers. You’ve bought the T-shirt, worn it down to a rag, used the rag to dust the widow sills, and thrown the remnants into the trash.

“The Deep End,’’ a new ABC series that premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 5, is instantly familiar. It’s yet another TV legal drama featuring gorgeous newbie attorneys, warring firm partners with cynical motives, clients-of-the-week who raise ethical quandaries, and sleekly fabulous offices that peer out across Los Angeles. The partners sleep with the newbies, the newbies sleep with one another, and the paralegal - she’s at the bottom of the pecking order - sleeps with everybody.

It’s actually kind of depressing just how obviously “The Deep End’’ has been constructed of used parts from the likes of “LA Law,’’ “The Practice,’’ “Boston Legal,’’ “Damages,’’ “Eli Stone,’’ and “The Good Wife.’’ But the borrowing doesn’t stop there. The most prevalent ingredient isn’t a legal series, it’s “Grey’s Anatomy,’’ with its emphasis on a fresh-faced crew of ambitious, competitive fledglings finding their way - and plenty of time for sex - in an all-consuming profession. That’s why ABC has put the show in a programming block with “Grey’s,’’ to grab a sympathetic audience.

Here’s the EZ-to-read rundown of the stock “Deep End’’ youngsters. Handsome Dylan (Matt Long) is The Earnest Fellow who still believes in justice, and tonight he deals with both the case of a mother losing custody of her son and his growing attraction to the paralegal, Katie (Rachelle Lefevre). Beth (Leah Pipes) is the Blond Trust Fund Brat who thinks she can buy a career. Liam (Ben Lawson) is The Man Slut who has slept with or probably will sleep with every woman on the show. Addy (Tina Majorino) is The Good Girl Who Needs Spine, and Malcolm (Mehcad Brooks) is The Character Who Has No Personality Yet.

Meanwhile, married partners Cliff (Billy Zane) - known behind his back as “The Prince of Darkness’’ - and Susan (Nicole Ari Parker) bicker, and they go up against firm founder Hart (Clancy Brown), who has begun to develop a conscience. The partners will, of course, struggle over the souls of the newcomers, and The Earnest Fellow doesn’t waste time before locking horns with Cliff tonight over the custody case. I’m betting The Man Slut will inevitably find himself entangled with Susan, who seems fed up with The Prince of Darkness and ready to play around. And I’m also betting that The Blond Trust Fund Brat will have some kind of love triangle with The Earnest Fellow and The Man Slut that will play out across the seasons.

Will The Viewer care? “The Deep End’’ may become a hit for ABC, thanks to its proximity to “Grey’s’’ and its attractive cast (and offices!). But I doubt it, because the series doesn’t have the catchy and unusual writing style that made “Grey’s Anatomy’’ so addictive during its first seasons. The dialogue on “Grey’s’’ has a distinct rhythm, and the characters are introspective in a memorable - if now tiresome - way. “The Deep End’’ characters aren’t interestingly self-aware or funny. They aren’t “twisty’’ like Meredith Grey, so much as flat.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

THE DEEP END Starring: Billy Zane, Ben Lawson, Tina Majorino, Nicole Ari Parker, Matt Long, Leah Pipes, Mehcad Brooks, Rachelle Lefevre, Clancy Brown

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight, 8-9