Although the title refers to the sink-or-swim lot of first-year legal associates, The Deep End doesn't do much more than skim across the surface -- and, taking an obvious page from Grey's Anatomy, spends as much time initially focusing on intramural sexual shenanigans as pleadings and motions. The main drawback is that ABC has dipped into this dramedic pool so many times that nothing here really distinguishes the show from its sundry predecessors, leaving behind a paper chase that amounts to little more than a grayer shade of "Grey's."
After a fleeting glimpse at the interview process, the show quickly plunges into the office politics of a big L.A. firm as seen through its handful of associates, each carefully plucked from the great book of TV archetypes. Like medical interns, these fledgling lawyers are "grunts, doormats, newbies," as one of them notes, living in fear of all-powerful partners with nicknames like the "Prince of Darkness" (a well-cast Billy Zane).
They're an attractive if mostly nondescript bunch: earnest Dylan (Matt Long), trust-fund baby Beth (Leah Pipes), spunk-challenged Addy (Tina Majorino) and ladies man Liam (Ben Lawson), who suffers from a self-described "impulse-control problem" when it comes to women. A fifth, played by Mehcad Brooks, turns up sparingly in the pilot.
Even before the younger folks can begin bed-hopping, though, there's the issue of the married partners Cliff (the aforementioned Zane) and Susan (Nicole Ari Parker); the principled firm patriarch Hart (Clancy Brown); and the associates' mercurial mentor, aptly named Rowdy (Norbert Leo Butz). Hell, "Grey's" Kate Burton even makes a cameo in the premiere.
That's ample talent, to be sure, but as written by David Hemingson (a veteran primarily of sitcoms like "How I Met Your Mother"), the opening argument doesn't advance much beyond the work-hard, play-hard phase. Moreover, having the assorted co-workers already making so many goo-goo eyes at each other doesn't bode well, inasmuch as "Grey's" exhausted its fresh sexual pairings halfway through season two.
While it's understandable that ABC would like to replace "Boston Legal," "The Deep End" won't make anybody forget "Eli Stone," which at least braved tinkering slightly with the formula.
Instead, the network has cast a strong ensemble adrift in a bland workplace environment -- "Grey's Attorneys," not to be confused, in success, with "Grey's Accountants" or "Grey's Architects."
Granted, brand extensions have worked well enough for CBS, but when diving into a "Deep End" that's this shallow, the risk is that if you don't hit the water just right there's a good chance of breaking your neck.