Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pilot Season: Made in Jersey (It's All About Loving What You Do)

As we’ve all known for years, there is a certain type of show that ends up on CBS. It’s a predictable show, a solid, workaday, simple show, that will appeal to the greatest number of people. There’s no shock that CBS tends to have the highest rated shows, but usually the least buzzy ones. They’re the network of CSI, multi-cam sitcoms, and surprisingly good procedural dramas. It’s a thing.

Into this lovely little nest comes a brand new show for their Friday night lineup: Made in Jersey. Set to complement their other Friday night offering, Blue Bloods, which is a sprawling procedural family drama about cops, Made in Jersey fills that slot perfectly. The touching and usually funny story of a Trenton lawyer who finds herself fighting upstream at a swanky New York law firm, it’s surprisingly, well, good.

This is not a thing I really expected, for the record.

Look, Made in Jersey has all the points ready for a show that I might not turn off, but I probably wouldn’t actively watch. But in this case, it all comes down to execution. With just a slip out of place anywhere here, the show would be bland as dust. Instead, though, it all sails along swimmingly, and I have a new show to stalk. Yay!

Our hero is Martina Garretti (Marty to her family), a newly minted Manhattan lawyer who keeps close her ties to her New Jersey past and family. She started out in the Trenton DA’s office, and while that’s given her an edge and expertise with her job, it also gives her a certain stink around her coworkers. They don’t respect her. It’s a class thing.

The fact that it’s a class thing actually really helps the show. Instead of just watching some nice girl trying to make it in the big city, you root for Marty, demanding that she show those assholes what’s up. It’s very Legally Blonde, without, you know, the money or Ivy League or all that freaking pink. But similar.

In our pilot episode, Marty speaks out a meeting and manages to prove that a potential murder weapon isn’t really a weapon, using her knowledge of how normal women think. As a reward, she’s made third chair on a murder case, and spends the rest of the episode trying to prove that her client, a sweet scholarship girl, didn’t kill her professor.

There’s an unrepentant classism running through the show, a “for the people or against them” attitude that might not be entirely fresh, but is still pretty welcome. CBS might be the most openly middle and lower class network, since it demographically tends to skew towards lower earning parts of the country, but it doesn’t usually get so vocal about it. I like the vocal. The vocal is nice.

As for the other characters, it’s got a surprisingly diverse cast that actually seems to reflect New York’s real demographics. Granted, Martina herself, and her family, are white. Baby steps, CBS.

By far the best part of the show, though, for me, was how effortlessly it passed the Bechdel Test. Not only is Marty a smart, cool lawyer who is great at her job and proud of her heritage, most of the show consisted of Marty talking to other women about the case, about her future, about their feelings – lots of things, and almost none of them men. In fact, the only prominent male characters on the show are her boss (played by Kyle McLaughlin – yay!) and her coworker / probable love interest.

But the love interest wasn’t integral to the story, not like Marty was, and their flirtation was so minor that you know it won’t come up for seasons. Marty is focusing on her career, and it’s fantastic to see a show that openly admits you can do that and not have to feel bad.

Ultimately, the show feels like the anti-Mindy Project. She has a great job, a great relationship with her family, and a lot of potential. Marty likes herself. She likes where she is and where she’s going. And she only puts up with people in her life who like those things too.

That is worth watching for, if nothing else. 

Made in Jersey is on Fridays at 9pm on CBS.

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