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‘Shark’ Seldom Bears Its Teeth

When a show entitled Shark is mentioned, one actor pops up in your internal search engine quicker than any other: James Woods. Too bad the title’s a misnomer.

As a high-powered, merciless defense attorney, Sebastian Stark (James Woods) can be downright nasty. But just a few minutes into Shark’s series premiere (10 p.m. ET, Thurs., CBS) he suffers a crisis of conscience–the cardinal sin for a defense attorney–when the suspect (Tony Daly) he’d freed just a short time ago commits murder. On suggestion from L.A.’s mayor (Carlos Gomez) to quell his remorse over the incident, Stark takes the plunge and does the unthinkable: He switches sides, teaming up with his former archenemy, Deputy District Attorney Jessica Devlin (Jeri Ryan), and becoming a prosecutor. There he’s charged with tutoring young hotshots who hope to someday be in his shoes. But while Stark’s time may be occupied with the impending high-profile case for which he and the group only have 48 hours to prepare, his young, neglected daughter (Danielle Panabaker), who is considering a move to New York, is occupying his mind.

Woods is one of Hollywood’s best, plain and simple. He is capable of doing anything with a role, as evidenced here, and he excels on the show. But now the bad: network TV. He’s fascinating to watch and ultimately has great chemistry with his costars, but not cursing with every other word might age him and the show prematurely. As his daughter, Panabaker (Yours, Mine and Ours) emotes properly, but her dialogue is beyond precocious, making for nice yin and yang with Woods but unrealistic father-daughter interplay–like most TV. Although Ryan, who shares a sexual tension and now an office with Woods’ Stark, wasn’t seen much in the opener, she will likely play (a very) sexy second-fiddle in the coming episodes.

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Spike Lee directs the premiere, but it’s the writing on these shows that leaves the stamp and makes the biggest impact. Ian Biederman (Crossing Jordan) crafts equally fantastic rapid-fire dialogue and slow-moving formulaic arcs, both of which will presumably define the show, much like most similar-minded hour-long dramas. His heartwarming and relatable family tale mixes well with the courtroom action, but it feels like we’ve seen it before; however, it may just have been long enough ago for people to crave it once again. And with Woods’ vast following likely to stay tuned in to his sharp–albeit somewhat tame–performance week after week, Biederman might just have the right concoction on his hands. Then again, most shows don’t catch lightning in a bottle.

Bottom Line: Shark boasts a very good premise to go with equally good acting. But this is James Woods we’re talking about–shouldn’t he be going to a little bit more of a dark, gritty side than the prosecution?

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