Well-written 'Eddie Dodd' worth watching


The start of "Eddie Dodd," the new ABC series that begins tonight, features a montage of images from a baby-boomer upbringing, taking you from life in the suburbs through the turmoil on campus.

This is supposed to sum up the past of the series' title character. But they left out one important element: Eddie at home on Saturday night watching "The Defenders."

There is no doubt that "Eddie Dodd" is a descendant from "The Defenders" and that's a compliment. For four seasons from 1961 to 1965, the father-son team of lawyers in "The Defenders" took on controversial cases, wading into the gray areas of the law where the truth is hard to find and justice is elusive and ephemeral. It was a refreshing antidote to "Perry Mason's" predictable bromides.

"Eddie Dodd," which begins a limited run in "thirtysomething's" time slot at 10 o'clock on Channel 13 (WJZ), stakes out similar territory. Tonight, it's a euthanasia case. Next week, it's a killing in a prison.

But in "Eddie Dodd," the child is father to the man. On "The Defenders," Robert Reed's more impetuous son was kept in line by E.G. Marshall's establishment father. In this firm, Dodd is the older attorney, but, as his '60s sentiments drive him to excess, it's up to his more '90s-oriented young partner to maintain control.

Indeed, when you get your first glimpse at Dodd's law office, you'll think you've seen it before in "Shannon's Deal." But this is not the crazed shabbiness of an '80s-aholic trying to recover from the excesses of that decade, it's the intentional shabbiness of a dedicated lawyer who has tried to keep the ideals of the '60s alive in a couple of decades that provided a hostile environment.

He's a true believer, you might say. And, indeed, "Eddie Dodd" is based loosely on the James Woods' film "True Believer." Treat Williams has taken over the title role and the change is for the better. Where Woods' version of Dodd was always over-the-top with high energy, moral outrage and a ponytail, Williams plays Dodd in a lower key, with a more conventional coif, an approach that adds more substance to the passion.

And, for "thirtysomething" fans -- that series will return in late April -- his partner Roger Baron is played by Corey Parker, the actor who painted Melissa's apartment and became her younger lover on that show.

Tonight's hour opens with a visit from Eddie's old girlfriend, Carolyn Sedgewick. A few days later, she is arrested for killing her husband who had suffered for seven years from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Though the killing, which she said they planned together, was designed to look like an accident, it didn't, and Sedgewick is charged with second degree murder. A prosecutor tells Dodd that these cases aren't negotiated, they are decided in the courtroom. The script is nicely textured, carefully weaving Dodd's feelings for Sedgewick and her daughter into a wider examination of this murky area of the law.

Even better is next week's show when Dodd is assigned to defend an inmate accused of supplying a gun that was used in a prison murder. That gets us into the whole area of gangs running the prisons. As if that weren't enough for an episode of a series, the judge on the case, a respected legal scholar Dodd had sought out for the assignment, is exhibiting the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease, confusion and disorientation amid bits of brilliance.

If Dodd manages to get the judge yanked off the case, he risks a delay of months that would see his client returned to prison where the gangs he has just testified about would probably kill him.

The running subplot in the episode involves Dodd's upcoming 40th birthday. Though played mostly for laughs, in the episode's final scene, it ties in with the rest of the plots in a moment of subtle poignancy. Never has 40 seemed so young and so old at the same moment.

The style of "Eddie Dodd" is the currently vogue muted tones and dramatic lighting, which looks pretty good but occasionally makes you want to yell at the characters to stop reading in the dark.

"Eddie Dodd's" strength is in its writing. The shows are intelligently constructed, nicely plotted, multi-layered, filled with subtle nuance. In both episodes there a scene that's laugh-out-loud funny and another that's kick-in-the-gut, teary-eye time.

There are a few problems. The office relationships need sorting out. The seemingly-ditzy-but-really-organized secretary seems cliched. Dodd's emotional outbursts are more in keeping with Woods' reading of the character than Williams' work.

But the bottom line is that "Eddie Dodd" is a show worthy of "thirtysomething's" time slot. And around here compliments don't come much higher than that.

"Eddie Dodd"

* * * A relic-from-the-'60s lawyer struggles to keep his ideals alive as he tackles tough cases.

CAST: Treat Williams, Corey Parker

TIME: Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

CHANNEL: ABC Channel 13 (WJZ)

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