Drop Dead Delightful

As has been alleged and avowed, I am a geek, and I am pretty damn gay.  Often, these two facets of my personality come together in celebration of life’s grandest things.  Whether it be my comic book inspired love of Daniel Cudmore, or my adoration of Jane Austen and Zombies, gay geekery has brought many wonderful things into my life.  And today, I share my latest discovery.

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You see, I am currently indulging in that most glorious of pursuits:  the staycation.  With the bar exam  now nothing more than an unpleasant memory, and month before I enter the gentlemanly practice of law for the rest of eternity, I have nothing to do but sprawl out on the couch and enjoy about a month’s worth of DVR’ed TV ranging from re-runs of the The Big Bang Theory to HGTV’s Design Star.   Included on the list is the latest effort from Lifetime, whose fine programming has entertained housewives and homos for years.

The moment I saw previews for this small-screen gem, I knew I would love it.  I have to admit, I have a love of trashy legal shows.  It is a closely guarded secret, but the path to my legal career began when  fourteen year-old baby gay Shmathan first viewed Ally McBeal.  It made corporate law seem fun and full of wacky hijinx.  Those false expectations aside, I owe my law degree to Calista Flockhart’s short skirted escapades.   So obviously, I am always eager to watch whatever legal comedy television has to offer, and Drop Dead Diva delivered in spades.

Admittedly, the plot of the pilot is pretty basic.  It begins with two women.  Beautiful, but vapid Deb, and quiet, insecure but brilliant Jane.  Both die on the same morning, under circumstances reflecting (rather absurdly) their respective lives.  Jane takes a bullet for the partner of her firm, whose philandering prompted a crazed husband to burst into their firm on a rampage.  Deb crashes into a grape fruit truck (the only thing she eats for breakfast in the morning, oh the cosmic coincidence).  Jane, who does more pro bono work than anyone in her firm and volunteers for meals on wheels, goes straight through to heaven.  Deb gets stopped at the gate.  Unfortunately, she’s so shallow that she registers as a “double zero,” with no good or bad acts to her name.  Hilarity ensues, and she gets sent back to Earth…to inhibit the recently vacated body of Jane, and with it, Jane’s smarts and old life.

The pilot itself was a little lackluster, coming off a bit too Legally Blonde.  There is even a “Bend And Snap” moment, where Jane/Deb tries to instill confidence in a client to testify by teaching her the “Toe tap booty snap” complete with advice of “Shoulders back, show the rack!”   But it had heart, Margaret Cho’s quips, and courtroom plots that (unlike Ally McBeal) were integral to the show and actually involved legal argument (thus satisfying my legal geekery).  And, going forward, the next few episodes moved away from the  Reese Witherspoon-esque to a surprisingly genuine show about Deb becoming a new person, learning to care about others, find confidence in herself for something other than looks, and solving interesting legal issues with novel solutions.

Now, I could go on, but I have one more episode DVR’ed and I am eager to find out what happens next.  So, I will simply conclude with a list of reasons for watching the show.

1.  Brooke Elliott:  The actress who plays Jane (and Deb, the second time around).  She’s really just fantastic, a talented and overwhelmingly likeable actress who can believably shift between quiet, insecure Jane and a more outgoing Deb, struggling to come to grips with her new life.  From her perfect comedic timing, to her attention to detail (mannerisms, inflection, carriage), she really is a wonderfully charming actress to watch who makes would could otherwise be a trite comedy into something genuine.  I have no doubt that without her and her likeability, this show would have been canceled two episodes in.

2.  Margaret Cho:  It was like this show was tailor-made to trap me.  After all, it plays to my loves.  Law.  Strong female leads.  And of course, Margaret Cho.  There’s not a gay in America who doesn’t worship the comedic ground on which Margaret Cho walks on.  Admittedly, as Jane/Deb’s assistance, Terri, Margaret is a bit more restrained, but her wise-cracking loyalty to an otherwise clueless Jane makes her the perfect supporting character.

3.  Ben Feldman:  Again, the show was tailor made to trap me by providing me with a piece of snarky quirky hotness, in the form of “Fred,” Jane’s guardian angel who was sent to keep the newly reincarnated Jane out of trouble.  He’s so adorable, and the newest member of my distinguished list of B-List Celebrity Crushes.

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4. Camp Icon Guest Stars:  Gracing the episodes this season are such guest stars as Rosie O’Donnell, Paula Abdul and Tim Gunn.  Seriously, this show is going into camp overdrive to lure in the gays.

5.  Legalese:  It is here that my geekery comes into play.  The plot episodes revolve around a court case illustrative of whatever issue of personal growth Jane/Deb is experiencing that week.  And for those of us who sleep clutching a copy of Dworkin’s “Law’s Empire,” read Blackstone’s Commentaries for fun, and think the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are nifty, the show is a entertaining way of engaging in legal geekery.  The cases involve actual law, and actually manage to bring up novel questions.  Of course they are a bit far fetched; for example, can a wife of a man with a multiple personality disorder sue a psychiatrist for wrongful death because her treatment eliminated her husband’s original personality?  The answer (as far as I know and as far as the show was concered) is no, but the characters actually managed to make a colorable argument for it, which makes me think they have some pretty good lawyers consulting for the show.

Still, at times legal accuracy gives way to plot.  For example, in an impassioned closing argument in an employment discrimination case (where a waitress was fired for gaining weight…yay, social responsibility!) Jane asks the jury to extend the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection guarantee to a new suspect class:  weight (the existing classes are race, religion, national origin and ethnicity), so she could create a precedent that would allow her to bring a class action lawsuit on behalf of all women turned away from employment at restaurants due to size.  First off, that’s completely beyond the realm of possibility.  I mean, even gender isn’t a suspect class.  It’s only a quasi-suspect class, and sexuality isn’t even afforded a definite classification, hovering  uncomfortably between a label of a “social or economic classification” (warranting the lowest level of constitutional scrutiny, thanks Supreme Court) and quasi-suspect (intermediate scrutiny) as a parallel to gender (in some Appellate cases).  Secondly, juries only make findings of fact, not law, and state trial courts don’t create binding precedents on matters of constitutional law.  And thirdly….well, I’ll stop.  Since this is Nobody Puts Baby in A Horner, and not Nobody Makes Constitutional Errors Around Shmathan.  The point is at the end of the day, the show lets me have fun with the law.  I mean, it’s great to scream “Prior inconsistent statement!! Impeach him with the trial record!” at a witness who on retrial changes his testimony moments before Jane/Deb does.  It tickles the legal geek in me pink.

Legally yours,

Shmathan

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