Shark season one DVD review

Can James Woods and co do for the legal profession what Hugh Laurie and the House team did for medicine? Er, no. No they can't.

James Woods in Shark

House works. You take a snidey, dislikeable-yet-paradoxically-likeable central character, get him played by a top actor, throw in a supporting cast, and watch it gel.

But of course it ain’t that simple, as this attempt to transfer the formula to the legal profession all but proves. This time, it’s the world of Sebastian “Shark” Stark we infest, a cynical, morality-free defence lawyer who switches sides and becomes a prosecutor. With his hastily-assembled, low-budget team, he then fights the kind of cases he used to enjoy defending. Snide comments ensue.

Also in the mix is his daughter, who opts to live with him rather than her mother, and a boss who hates his guts but – shucks – learns to love him.

Firstly, let’s examine the case for Shark. It rests all-but-entirely on the shoulders of James Woods, who too often has to make up for scripts that have all the depth of a puddle. Woods is a terrific actor, long underappreciated, and often he fuels episodes seemingly single-handedly. He doesn’t deliver an astounding performance along the lines of Hugh Laurie in House, but he’s the best thing here, and you suspect he knows it.

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Also in Shark’s favour is the fact that it’s willing to pull quite a narrative surprise in its first third of the season, and some of the supporting cast – Danielle Panabaker as Stark’s daughter and Sarah Carter as Madeleine, the hard-ass one of the stereotypical supporting line up – also deliver.

But for most of the 22 episodes that make up Shark’s maiden season, it’s braindead, easy-watch television that follows a fairly rigid formula. Forget the fact that the cases move like an express train, how about the fact that the defence always has a fact that the entire prosecution team missed? Or the moment at the end when Stark shows his brilliance? Heck, throw in Jerry Ryan (a million miles away from her Star Trek career high here) to have a whinge, and you can’t help but thinking there’s a Microsoft Word template for writing this stuff.

There are some exceptions. An episode following a hostage situation in a courtroom is interesting, and the ones following Bill Campbell’s Wayne Callison provide Stark with the only foe worthy of him throughout the series. It’s a pity the ending is so laughably bad.

Shark isn’t terrible television though, but it’s certainly lazy. Take one man out of the equation, and it just doesn’t work. There’s a second series currently broadcasting, but save for some tired Channel Five late night remote control surfing, there’s little compulsion after the first series to watch it.

In terms of extra features, there’s a decent enough twenty minute documentary on the creation of Shark, with all the talking heads you’d expect. The gag reel is quite good, and there’s also a wealth of deleted scenes. That’s pretty much your lot, though.

And you can’t ultimately get away from the fact that while American television has been serving up (then usually cancelling) some interesting shows of late, Shark simply isn’t one of them. It’s an easy ratings winner, but hardly the kind of programme – in spite of Woods – that would inspire a fan campaign should it slip off the schedules. Even if it is the programme that’s not CSI on Channel Five.

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2 out of 5


2 out of 5