They may not be the only honest Las Vegas defense attorneys, but they absolutely have the biggest, gaudiest billboard over the Strip.

Nick Morelli (Belushi) and Pete Kaczmarek (Jerry O'Connell) are squared off in the ad like a pair of boxers, ready to fight for the rights of the poor, the underprivileged, the wrongly accused.

They have "complicated" personal lives, but their professional ones are uncluttered: They do the right thing, or at least do whatever they have to do to get a client off the hook. When new attorney Lisa Tyler (Jurnee Smollett) joins their firm, Kaczmarek recalls the pep talk he got from Morelli, who was impressed by his early passion about the casework: "I'll be damned - I thought I was the only dumb one to care so freaking much."


After reading the foregoing, you may be left with the impression that "The Defenders" is some sort of old joke in search of a punch line. "Two honest Las Vegas defense attorneys walk into a bar . . . " To be sure, the premise sounds at best naive (and at worst, idiotic). The "defense" side can be complex, sticky and not always blessed with moral or ethical clarity. And then, there's Las Vegas.

With the right actors and tone, "The Defenders" just might work, CBS reasoned, and the network was mostly right. Jowly, world-weary and eyes bleared by one too many martinis, Belushi's Morelli strikes a plausible balance of idealism with avarice. In a way, he and Kaczmarek are like "Nip / Tuck's" Sean McNamara and Christian Troy, who were in it for the money, glory and women, but really did want to make clients prettier and happier.


The show is an old-fashioned courtroom procedural, but the pilot has enough sharp writing and well-greased plot twists to suggest future promise.



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