When this show debuted on TNT last summer, it was quite popular for critics to bash it for being stupid. I’m not going to say the series is particularly smart, but its fans aren’t looking for insightful, unique observations that advance the television medium. Like much of USA’s lineup, a strategy TNT seems to be emulating, Franklin & Bash is excellent summer viewing. It’s full of pretty people doing dumb thus entertaining things. It’s wonderful escapist fantasy. You’ll forget it after you see it — which means the DVDs will always feel fresh — but you’ll laugh at least once an episode, and you may even secretly admire two bros who seem so successful without being properly civilized or giving up exactly how they want to live.
Franklin (Breckin Meyer, Clueless) and Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Saved by the Bell) are young lawyers. They work out of their home, which looks like a frat house, and they act like they’re still in college, tossing footballs, having beers during “team meetings”, and throwing drunken weeknight parties. At one point, Franklin is described as “F. Lee Bailey meets Barnum & Bailey”. He’s the strategist, while Bash is the soulful one who uses his puppy-dog eyes to sway the jury while pining for his ex-girlfriend. (If you’re curious, he also hot tubs nude in the first episode, shocking his new assistant (Alexandra Holden), who hasn’t yet “signed the waivers”.)
Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Franklin (Breckin Meyer)
Franklin and Bash smack each other, fighting when they need a diversion from a press conference gone bad. They play videogames while working. They tan shirtless through their office windows. They bet on their cases. They kiss witnesses on the stand. They drink beer placed into evidence in court in order to argue against the legal limit for alcohol consumption — and then continue the case drunk. They toss darts to see whether they should represent a jerk client properly or hang him out to dry in court. In summation, they’re buddies trying to make lawyering seem cool again.
We’ve seen so many court shows that were serious, one that’s unashamedly an outrageous character-driven comedy is welcome. Franklin & Bash is consistent lightweight entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously — or seriously at all. Under the stupid frat-boy pranks, some of the events are clever, and the personalities come through vibrantly. Sometimes, it’s relaxing to watch a show that never has a “Previously on” opening, and I always enjoy seeing a new episode. The second season is running now on TNT, in case you’d like to try it out for yourself, while this First Season collection is due out tomorrow.
Malcolm McDowell is the best thing on the show as a partner who brings the boys into his fancy law firm for some new blood. McDowell is always fun to watch, no matter what he’s doing; here, he’s playing the eccentric old guy who can do whatever he wants.
The boys’ assistants are the agoraphobic, neurotic, hypochondriac, multi-phobic Pindar (Kumail Nanjiani) and streetwise Carmen (Dana Davis, previously the bitchy cheerleader on the 10 Things I Hate About You TV show). Most of the cast is doing a great job giving the show just what it needs. Reed Diamond, in particular, is part of McDowell’s firm (and his nephew) and resents the boys for not following the rules that constrain him. Their existence offends him. He used to date Garcelle Beauvais, playing Hanna, another firm partner; the two team up for various schemes.
Reed Diamond and Anabella Casanova
This season is 10 episodes across three discs. Their first case in the “Pilot” involves a guy who rear-ends another driver. The boys blame a sexy mattress ad, featuring a busty blonde in lingerie, hanging over the intersection. To make their case, they put the model on the stand and tell her to take her top off while testifying. That’s the kind of “strategy” that permeates their lawyering, although it is toned down later in the season. Another case that episode involves a dominatrix whose boyfriend testifies against her when she’s charged with prostitution.
Malcolm McDowell and friend
In the second, “She Came Upstairs to Kill Me”, a widow (Natalie Zea) is accused of killing her much-older husband with sex. (The title is said to have been his last words.) “Jennifer of Troy” features a woman (Jillian Bell) who thinks she was fired from a men’s magazine office for being too attractive, while the boys’ computer guy needs his reputation restored in Chinatown. In “Bro-Bono”, an old classmate ends up in a fight at a strip club, while a nasty divorce case includes a pre-nup and accusations of adultery.
Disc two has three episodes. “You Can’t Take It With You” finally brings non-sex-related cases, as a family argues over who owns a famous home-run baseball and Tom Arnold plays a dad who’s regretting signing a contract to be on a reality show. It’s one of the better episodes, even though Franklin and Bash aren’t working together for much of it. “Big Fish” stars Jason Alexander as a repentant corporate raider who wants to atone for his financial misdeeds when he gets a diagnosis that he’s near death. “Franklin vs. Bash” gets back to the smut, as two pole dancers are accused of theft from a client’s home, and the boys end up facing each other in court.
The final three episodes are on disc three. McDowell’s niece (Anabella Casanova), visiting from London, needs the boys’ help in “The Bangover” when she gets caught with pot (and appears before Tommy Chong as a tough-on-drugs judge). Meanwhile, Carmen is trying to break her addiction to her felon ex-boyfriend, who left a big bag of money. With all that happening, the episode should be better than it is, but “Bachelor Party” brings things back, with James Van Der Beek as Bash’s ex-girlfriend’s new fiance. (Watching Gosselaar and Van Der Beek together, you can see how the woman’s got a type — they look like brothers.) There’s also a case involving a private school teacher who slept with one of her students over the summer, thinking he was an adult. The season ends with “Go Tell It on the Mountain”, where McDowell is accused of killing his former partner on a mountain climbing trip 15 years ago while the boys take a case for a masked wrestler (Danny Trejo).
Additional guest stars include Kathy Najimy (a judge, episodes 1 and 8), Fred Willard (2), Harry Hamlin (4), Jenny O’Hara (4), Beau Bridges (5, as Franklin’s lawyer shark dad), John de Lancie (9), Gates McFadden (10), and Tricia Helfer (10).
There are lots of small promotional featurettes, split among the three discs:
- Franklin & Bash Behind the Scenes (4 minutes) — the stars tell us about their characters with show clips
- Franklin & Bash & Friendship (2 minutes) — similar, but includes the producers talking about the camaraderie, and the two leads play ping-pong
- Creating the Cases (2 minutes) — the producers reveal that they figure out the cases based on what they’d like to see in court that they’ve never seen, tethered by good lawyering (well, at least they achieved the first part)
- Behind the Behind (1 minute) — discussing Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s nude scene in the first episode with lots of footage, blurred
- Working for Franklin & Bash (3 minutes) — about Carmen and Pindar
- Malcolm McDowell Office Tour (1 1/2 minutes) — the notable actor wanders around the set wisecracking
- Man Cave Tour (6 1/2 minutes) — similar to the Office Tour; Breckin Meyer, with help from Mark-Paul Gosselaar, walks us through the house set
- Franklin & Bash Commercial (1 1/2 minutes) — three 30-second fake ads for the law firm
- Gag Reel (2 minutes) — the typical line flubs and prop malfunctions
You can see the fake ads and other silly clips at the show website. (The studio provided a review copy.)