In recent years, USA Network has established itself as the home for the lighthearted drama: “Psych,” “Monk,” “Fairly Legal,” “Royal Pains.” They’re all chock full of quick banter and jocular give and take, with occasional moments of drama thrown in to give characters a modicum of depth. Enjoyable but not weighty.
Atlanta-based TNT has had more success with slightly grittier fare and we’re saying slightly because its two biggest shows “The Closer” and “Rizzoli & Isles” are hardly FX “Sons of Anarchy”/”Justified” territory.
TNT’s new drama “Franklin & Bash,” which debuts June 1 at 9 p.m., would fit nicely paired with USA’s “Psych.” Instead, it airs before the more earnest “Men of a Certain Age.”
“Franklin & Bash” features two rebellious, somewhat immature lawyer buddies who run the type of law firm that advertises on buses. But their showboating ways are successful – because such methodology works well in fictional justice land. A well-heeled legal firm, led by an eccentric Malcolm MacDowell, hires them to shake things up.
It’s a simple premise, hardly groundbreaking. Viewers will embrace this only if they buy into Mark-Paul Gosselaar (”Saved by the Bell,” “NYPD Blue,” “Raising the Bar”) and Breckin Meyer (”Road Trip”) as the buddies.
Though Gosselaar’s previous drama “Raising the Bar” failed to raise enough viewers and was gone after two seasons. But TNT’s head of programming Michael Wright liked Gosselaar and offered him the role of Steven Bash, who is far less righteous and far more confident than his “Raising the Bar” public defender character Jerry Kellerman. Oh, and he wears his hair thick but not too long. (Kellerman’s stringy disheveled first-season hair became such a major talking point that it was cut season two.)
Gosselaar said yes when he heard Meyer was going to be his co-star. Though the pair had never worked together, they knew each other and are about the same ages. “We grew up in the industry together,” Gosselaar said in an interview. “We were very aware of each other and I respected his comedic skills.”
The pair bonded immediately, especially while shooting the pilot in Atlanta, he said. They appreciated each other’s work ethic. “We were locked in the assignment for two weeks,” Meyer said. “We’d rehearse every night in the hotel.” Afterward the pilot, they even went on vacation in Hawaii together with their families.
The two characters are not that different: “It just depends on the situation,” Gosselaar said. “One will rise to the occasion while the other slums it. That’s the beauty of the characters. Not one of them is the funny guy and the other is the straight guy. They both have their moments.”
Meyer said his character Jared Franklin “sees the courtroom as a stage, whereas Bash sees the jury as his puzzle to put together, trying to get them to swim in his baby blues.”
In the third episode, for instance, where a woman who isn’t overtly beautiful claims she is fired for being too beautiful. Bash tries to sway the jury by being “taken” by her beauty on the stand and ends up kissing her. Yes, this is “Ally McBeal” territory, not “Law & Order.”
For folks who know Atlanta well, you’ll recognize the Just Around the Corner burger joint on Marietta St. in the first scene and later, the Fulton County courthouse and the Bank of America building, where the law firm scenes were shot. The show did get moved back to Los Angeles, where the show is supposed to be based, for the rest of the season. Since being in L.A. is pricier than Atlanta, both leads took pay cuts to make sure the budgets worked, according to Garcelle Beauvais (”NYPD Blue”), who plays Hannah, another attorney at the firm.
But as both actors noted, it’s always better to have a show in the city it’s based in. And they got to stay closer to their families. “You can’t fake Sunset Boulevard,” Meyer said. “There’s a feel in L.A.”
And during the taping of the show, the pair spent a lot of times playing video games – just like the characters. “We played a lot of ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops,’ ” Meyer noted. “I had a big plasma TV in my trailer. It takes up the entire trailer. I had to eat on the floor.”
The show features plenty of cool guest stars including James Van Der Beek (”I couldn’t stop joking about the resemblance” between James and Mark-Paul, Meyer noted. “That might have been more me than my character.”) and Jason Alexander (”I’m such a huge ‘Seinfeld’ fan,” Meyer said. “There’d be times I was quoting Jason to Jason.”)
I also asked Gosselaar about how sister station TBS has played “Saved by the Bell” for years and years. He does not mind. “It’s a great marketing tool,” he said. “We all go through awkward phases in our lives. Mine just happened to be watched by millions who still enjoy it today.”
“Franklin & Bash,” TNT, 9 p.m. Wednesdays, starting June 1
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog