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First-year associates at large law firms have it rough. They work brutal hours, handle the most tedious case work and must bow to the wills and whims of the partners who can make or break a burgeoning legal career. But at least they don’t suffer like the viewers of “First Years,” the new NBC series about five law school friends starting out at a San Francisco law firm who, conveniently, also happen to share a large Victorian house and occasionally each others’ beds. Ostensibly, a show like this would be based on the actual experiences of actual associates in an actual law firm, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, dreck like this makes you wish the writers and actors in Hollywood actually would go out on strike. We are supposed to laugh, I think, as Anna (Samantha Mathis), the blonde one, searches in vain for her underwear in the bedroom of a one-night stand. Warren (Mackenzie Astin) is the gay one; we know this because he hangs an erotic photograph in his office, but otherwise he exudes as much emotion — no less sexuality — as a hirsute Ken doll. Edgar (James Roday) is the scruffy one, whose unkempt clothes seem to take business casual to a new low, something perhaps best classified as “business tacky.” Miles (Ken Marino) is really so bland as to defy simple description, but at least he once slept with Anna. The only character who exhibits — perhaps — more than one dimension is Riley (Sydney Tamiia Poitier, the daughter of screen legend Sidney Poitier). In the series premiere last Monday, she represented an African-American prison inmate seeking to rescind the consent decree that put her baby in the home of white adoptive parents, forcing her to confront her own biracial identity. Unfortunately, if the rest of the show is any indication, we can expect Riley’s character to be diminished to that of the token minority and Edgar’s love interest. What makes this show truly difficult to watch — besides the acting, the writing, the direction, the costumes, the set design, the lighting and even the theme music — is its blatant ignorance of how things work in an actual law firm. Even in San Francisco, Anna wouldn’t enter a meeting with a partner wearing a short skirt and no underwear. Miles’ persistent prodding into the details of Anna’s sex life wouldn’t pass muster in the post-Anita Hill era. First-year associates wouldn’t have those spacious offices, work those comfy hours, wear those awful clothes, take those complex cases — in short, “First Years” bears little resemblance to what any reasonable person could think a first year is like. Of course, executive producer Jill Gordon (formerly of “The Wonder Years” and “My So-Called Life”) would be hard-pressed to shop a series where unattractive attorneys, growing more bitter with each passing week, proofread contracts until 3 a.m. and gripe about their six-figure salaries. Even so, with some better writers and talented actors, she could have developed a better series on the lives and loves of five typists in a law firm’s word-processing department. Sensing this, Gordon seems to have provided her lackluster effort a convenient exit strategy. By titling the series “First Years” instead of “This Life” — the hit British series on which this cheap knock-off is based — she is only asking for the series to be cut by the time the new season rolls around in the fall. After all, by then Anna, Edgar, Miles, Riley and Warren will be “Second Years.” If the show lasted as long as “Law and Order” or “The Practice,” this quintet would all become “Partners”. With the economy tanking, associates everywhere are getting nervous about layoffs. Let’s hope these five are the first to go.

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