"Made in Jersey" has a heroine with big hair, a big personality, and a big Jersey accent. Throw her into an upper-crust law firm and you'd expect fireworks as she tries to earn the respect of her Ivy League colleagues. In the pilot of the series, however, one sassy monologue in a staff meeting nets her third chair on a murder case. Not too shabby for a girl in a bra and a blazer.
Slightly bumpy road at workJersey girl Martina (Janet Montgomery) does earn the ire of one of her coworkers: the tall, thin, perfect Natalie played haughtily by "Law & Order" alum Stephanie March. "You lower expectations just by walking into a room," Natalie tells her before a big day in court. Harsh, but the cool blonde also gives Martina advice and tells her "good job" when she wins the case.
It is refreshing to not have trumped-up conflict at Martina's work. Many TV series have an irritating way of painting every character as a cruel backstabber. The fact that "Made in Jersey" allows some of Martina's coworkers to be decent people just trying to get their job done is a welcome change.
What are we building to?The problem with "Made in Jersey" is that it swings too far in the positivity direction. Martina is nervous to start with, but once she gets into the investigative work, she's a total pro. She ticks off the necessary clues and evidence step by step with little to stand in her way. She wins the case, has full confidence from her boss, and bonds with the client she saved from prosecution.
When a series sets up a "fish out of water" scenario, the idea is that the fish has to flop around helplessly for awhile. If there's no real struggle with Martina's colleagues, the writers are going to have to do a much better job making the cases trickier for her to handle. A victory shouldn't feel inevitable, even if the audience wants everything to work out.
Smaller momentsMartina is overall a likable character, and Montgomery plays her with an appealing amount of sass and intelligence. The problem is that her "enthusiasm" for the law sometimes translates into yelling, and the British-born actress overdoes the Jersey accent until it becomes shrill. "The Nanny" got away with an annoying voice for several seasons, but since "Made in Jersey" isn't strictly a comedy, viewers could get turned off.
The series does better in smaller moments. When noting their client's abrupt change to bleached-blond hair, Martina explains that the college girl wanted to fit in with the wealthy students at her school. Returning from break with bright blonde hair implied she'd "been somewhere" for the holidays. Martina says this with a slight tremor in her voice, and we can tell that she knows what it's like to try to fit into the upper levels of the social hierarchy.
Bottom line"Made in Jersey" has a definite USA network vibe, where lighter fare like "White Collar" and "Covert Affairs" do a nice business. The similarity is not surprising, since executive producer Dana Calvo has worked on "Covert Affairs" and TNT's "Franklin and Bash." The Friday night time slot for this CBS series is probably the best place for it, and "Made in Jersey" could find that niche audience looking for a pleasant diversion after a tough week at work. The show still needs a bit more drama to sustain that audience, however, and hopefully the upcoming episodes will throw a few legitimate challenges Martina's way.
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