The critical reaction to CBS’ new legal drama “Made in Jersey” ranged from “I can’t believe this is on TV” outrage to versions of “It’s likeable and fun.” CBS sided with the former and cancelled it after two episodes. If you blinked and missed this show, I’ll put it this way: If “The Good Wife” is a complex, layered, 10-ingredient French dessert, “Made in Jersey” was a package of instant pudding. It still tasted good, but that’s mostly because it was all sugar. But everyone likes instant pudding, right? So in honor of the legal drama it tried to be, I’d like to make a case for why this show deserved more time on the air.
“Made in Jersey” starred British actor Janet Montgomery as Martina Garretti, a lawyer from the Garden State who gets a job with a prestigious law firm in Manhattan. Martina had a large family where the women were all about big hair, tight clothes and lots of makeup and the men mostly wise-cracked. They were proud of her and she loved them. She felt out of place in her new job, but she was determined to prove herself, particularly to a rival female lawyer who rarely missed an opportunity to undermine her with the boss. In the pilot episode, she wins her first case, saving a college student from a murder charge.
So pop quiz: Martina won her first case because she was: a) streetwise, b) brash, c) sassy or d) all of these things. If you answered d, congratulations! Apparently, Martina had all of these qualities simply because she came from New Jersey. She also had “pluck,” which allowed her to find clues that other well-qualified lawyers at her firm missed because they were too snobby to recognize that a set of pliers for example, are not necessarily a murder tool. They are, in fact, a useful device to pull the zipper on a pair of skinny jeans. Also, a client isn’t guilty for this reason: If she had bludgeoned the victim in question to death, her gel manicure would be wrecked instead of shiny. Martina came up with both of these clever deductions in the first few minutes of the pilot episode.
“Made in Jersey” hoped that you would identify with Martina’s outsider status (who hasn’t felt out of place at some point in their life?) and root for her. And I did. I liked Martina in spite of her too-big-for-a-law-firm hair and her too-bright-for-a-law-firm lipstick and her too-primary-colors-for-a-law-firm work clothes. Of course, her scrappy, streetwise attitude was as cliché as the case-of-the-week storylines were predictable (all two of them), but as a character, she had an appealing optimism. Martina spent so much time smiling, you couldn’t help but be happy for her. Yes, she was the TV lawyer version of cotton candy, all fluff and no substance, but sweet all the same.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.
Stay Tuned: R.I.P. Made in Jersey’