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TV Series Review

It's easy to see why so many viewers have been comparing CBS' Shark to Fox's medical drama House. Shark's creators have borrowed the same antihero-breaking-all-the-rules formula, only they've made the title character a divorced lawyer caring for his 16-year-old daughter.

Defense attorney Sebastian Stark (James Woods) decides to stop getting killers acquitted, so he joins a high-profile crime department in the L.A. District Attorney's office. The ambitious D.A., Jessica Devlin (Star Trek: Voyager's Jeri Ryan), doesn't like the acerbic cutthroat but teams Stark with a group of novice lawyers in hopes of training a bare-knuckles legal corps to mirror his winning ways.

Woods injects lots of fire and arrogance into his man-eater of an attorney, though the rest of the cast tends to lay there like beached flounder. And the weak, predictable scripts give off a comparable aroma. In order to keep Stark edgy, writers paint him as a virtuoso con man who repeatedly lies to, cheats and blackmails defendants. If all else fails, he'll work the press to his advantage. Anything to win.

The action on the home front often reflects that same "deception without consequences" theme. Stark says he wants to be a better father to Julie (Danielle Panabaker), the daughter he has ignored for so long. But he still isn't paying attention. For example, when she gets caught cheating on a school paper and admits her guilt to Dad, Stark preps her to "beat the charges." "Are you telling me to lie?" she asks. "Truth is relative," he replies. Later, Julie breezes through her disciplinary hearing yet laments, "I'm a liar and a cheat." Stark weakly rambles around an apology to her, finally shifting to their relationship: "If we don't have the truth, then we don't have a prayer of making this thing work." But there is no truth. Julie is never punished or corrected, and she lies to her dad the very next time she stumbles.

Compounding all of these problems is the show's tendency to take us to the seedy parts of L.A. for the skin, sex, booze, profanity, bullet holes and blood you'd expect there. Cases about rape, sweatshop murders and prostitution are the norm, resolved more by manipulation than anything resembling the rule of law.

"For me it is a legal show and it isn't a legal show," explained Shark creator and executive producer Ian Biederman. "It's about redemption. It's about a guy trying to start over." Is he really? Stark acts just as unethically as ever and encourages his protégés to do the same, making statements such as, "Second place is death!" and "Win at all costs!" When you see a fin, stay out of the water.

Episodes Reviewed: Oct. 19, Nov. 2, 23, 2006, Feb. 8, 22, Mar. 29, 2007

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Bob Hoose

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