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Yeah, it’s a bitch being a woman at a large law firm. There’s no doubt about it. A survey conducted in the 1990s revealed that a huge majority of young women lawyers who begin their careers at the big law firms jump overboard before they ever come close to making partner. Male lawyers leer at you, and when they don’t, they still won’t take you seriously. Female partners can be brutally brittle, remembering how tough they needed to be to make it. Then there’s the whole Baby Gap, the hot-burner question of whether there’s any time in a 2,200-hour billing year to have and raise a child. Someday, perhaps, there will be a textured, meaningful television drama with tightly drawn characters committed to exploring the gender dynamics of the legal workplace. But that ain’t happening today. Today, we get “Girls Club,” the new Fox drama, which asks instead whether three hot chicks who live in a fabulous San Francisco crib can survive partners being really, really mean to them [ Editor's note: The show was cancelled on Oct. 29]: “Excuse me,” asks red-haired Jeannie Falls (Kathleen Robertson) when a partner gives her an assignment, “but why can’t you do it?” “Because I’m a partner in this law firm and you are an associate,” the partner (not unreasonably) replies. Jeannie curls up her front lip into her pointed chin in disgust and stomps away. As a slice of reality, “Girls Club” makes the whimsical, barely grounded “Ally McBeal” — whose slot the show replaces in Fox’s Monday night lineup — seem like “The Sorrow and the Pity.” Both shows have been brought to life by TV impresario David E. Kelley. It’s easy to throw stones at Kelley. The former lawyer quit the legal biz, secured a big-time gig writing scripts for “L.A. Law” in the 1980s, and turned that into a career of creating one law-based television show after another, from “Picket Fences” to “The Practice” to “Ally.” Oh, and he’s married to Michelle Pfeiffer and he still has all his hair. In fact, it’s so easy to throw stones at Kelley, that we’re gonna keep doing it. Here, take this rock. Flick your wrist like this. See, it seems that Kelley can’t say “enough” or “ �a suffit” or “ Thanks, but I’m fresh out of ideas.” Or, even “Hey, I’m going to sail around the world for a few years and find my true purpose on this sphere.” All, it seems, he can say is, “You’re gonna pay me how much? For that? Really?” By now, Kelley should be as rich as Croesus. Or at least Oprah. [ Disclosure Statement: Judge Dread's criticism of David E. Kelley is by no means rooted in the fact that the Judge once wrote two screenplays that were so collectively abhorred in Hollywood that several studios changed their mailing addresses just to avoid receiving copies.] There’s more than a slight whiff of cynical packaging in this piece of dramatic flotsam. For years, network executives have watched in dismay as HBO’s “Sex and the City” attracted women viewers by the droves. To them, the idea of fusing the soft-porn shadings of “Sex” with a legal drama must have appeared irresistible. Not only that, but young female associates have considerable consumer buying power. It’s a tasty target demographic that threatened to dry up with the departure of “Ally McBeal.” So we get three young, attractive women fresh from Stanford Law (of course; doesn’t anyone on television go to a state school?) who share a spacious loft apartment in downtown S.F. and who all have started work at the prestigious law firm of Big Important Sounding Name Here. There’s tempestuous Lynne Camden, played by Gretchen Mol, whose presence here officially hallmarks her tumble from an “It Girl” who once graced the cover of Vanity Fair to a “Who Dat?” Lynne scrunches up her nose when she’s mad, speaks with a baby-doll cadence, and spends the entire premiere episode demanding to be taken seriously. Nobody does. Lynne has, hold your breath, been given a murder case to defend, an experience to which all of you young associates can relate. I mean, is there anything more annoying than partners dumping their murder cases in your lap right before a weekend when you had plans? What a buzzkill. An aside: Some readers with long memories and terrible social lives may recall that last year NBC aired a similar, unspeakably poor drama titled “First Years,” which disappeared from sight faster than a Barry Bonds dinger. In the pilot episode of “First Years,” which was also set in San Francisco, a young, gorgeous associate was also stuck with a homicide case that no one else wanted. Are the hallways of our nation’s leading law firms simply littered with neglected murder cases cast aside by overworked partners? What can be done to stop this Abuse of Discretion? Can a Blue Ribbon Commission be formed? Or at least a Schlitz Commission? (OK. That’s not funny. But how does the Judge keep prices low? Volume, volume, volume.) Fortunately for Lynne, her client (Scott Foley) looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model and not an emaciated crackhead or heroin addict. Her luck’s changing for the better! Or is it? Her client confesses that he pleasures himself in his jail cell when he pictures her. This dramatic turn is known in the industry as the David E. Kelley Touch (for want of a better term). That, combined with a scene where our comely heroines subtly give a partner the finger, explains the VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED warning that has been affixed to the program. Frankly, when he saw the warning, the Judge was hoping for more of that “Girls Gone Wild” vibe and less of talk about penal penis wielding. But here’s the thing. The Judge has said it before, and he’ll say it now. The lives of law firm associates are not interesting. Anyone who believes otherwise is delusional. It’s instead a numbing, soul-killing, exhausting existence, a transaction in which youth is exchanged for money. Now, give the Judge a television drama that shows young lawyers being stripped of their idealism, that portrays them starving for human contact, that reveals them as pawns in a great corporate revenue-producing machine, and the Judge will pull up his La-Z-Boy to watch. (Of course, the Judge also wants MTV to set one of their “Real World” seasons in Cleveland. The Judge is a bit — well, how should we put it? — dark.) Back to the matter at hand. While Lynne tries to spare a man from Death Row, the other gals have problems of their own. Straight-laced Sarah Mickle (complete with glasses, a name from the Bible, and references to Christianity, in case you didn’t quite get it) is having problems with a witchy female partner nicknamed “The Praying Mantis” and her backstabbing henchwoman associate. When Sarah (Chyler Leigh) loses her cool, she calls her fellow associate a “dyke.” This is supposed to make us feel sympathetic for Sarah, but instead manages to make us feel sorry for whomever is stuck working with this whiny, self-pitying pixie. Meanwhile, go-getter Jeannie is helping to sue a gynecologist who fainted and landed face down in his patient’s Enchanted Forest, so to speak. (This would be another David E. Kelley Touch.) Jeannie is so eager to please that she doesn’t seem to notice that the slimy (and balding, of course; in Television Land, this represents evil) partner for whom she works is sexually harassing her almost every minute of the day. Jeannie apparently has been shot to the present from the year 1962. If you can make it all the way to the end, prepare yourself for a Simpsonesque (Homer, not O.J.) coda, when Jeannie, fresh off her latest mortifying dose of Partner Twister, implores her two blue roommates to put a happy spin on a day that has seen Lynne’s client kill himself in prison and Sarah come within an eye blink of being fired for her “dyke” remark. So inspired, Lynne grabs her purse. “I think drinks definitely are in order!” she says as the girls head out for a night on the town. For all of its lip-liner service about female empowerment in the legal workplace (and there’s plenty of it), those interested in advancing the cause of equal treatment of women in law firms might best paraphrase Groucho Marx, who, as far as we know, never pleasured himself in prison. Don’t join any “Girls Club” that would have someone like these three as members. Judge Dread presides over the harshest court of all: The Court of Public Opinion. His wife, a law firm associate, disavows any participation in this review, and in fact, might be rethinking this marriage thing altogether.

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