The Deep End debuts tonight at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.

Grey's Anatomy kinda ruined ABC. Unlike Desperate Housewives and Lost, it seemed like it would be easily clonable. Just take sexy people, stick them in a traditional TV workplace and watch the sparks fly. Instead, it mostly just ended up not being very easy to copy at

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You know what we don't have a lot of on TV right now? Lawyer shows. I keep expecting them to make a comeback, but it never quite works out that way. The Good Wife? That's a really good legal show. But it's also not as highly rated as most CBS dramas and surviving on critical acclaim. Boston Legal? That was kind of a terrible show. Really, the last good, highly rated legal show we had was The Practice, but only for its first few

Sometimes, I think about how so many of my favorite actors and actresses end up in terrible ensemble dramas, most often on ABC, and that makes me kinda sad. After she played Mac on Veronica Mars and Heather on Big Love, there are few actresses I like more than Tina

You know what I'm kinda sick of? Corporate machinations. I'm sick of watching the very rich play games with other people's lives. It might just be because that's how it really is right now down here in

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OK, OK, OK. I'll stop now because the above is incredibly, incredibly irritating. But it's also a vague approximation of what it's like to watch The Deep End, which is pretty much just the result of someone at ABC central saying, "Y'know what would be cool? Grey's Anatomy with lawyers." And, honestly, that does sound like a pretty sustainable idea for a TV show, even if it doesn't sound like one I'd actually, y'know, watch. Lawyer shows are one of the more durable formats on TV, and a format that's due for a revival (since it's a fairly good way for shows to confront social issues in a format that allows for blatant proselytizing). But it really has been a while since there's been one that's been both good and popular, and in a world of way too many cop and doctor shows, it could seem fresh and new to bring lawyers back.

Instead, The Deep End crams so much into one episode that most of the storylines feel scattered, as though the writers started them, then mostly just ended them before they were really meant to end. And it's not like these are stories that are going to continue from episode to episode or anything. At times, it's as though the show wants to cram so much into the pilot that it's willing to just have a character quickly summarize how something paid off for us, rather than actually dramatizing, and it absolutely ends up driving you nuts. It's a busy, way too cluttered pilot, filled with way too many characters, and it doesn't give you enough shorthand to figure out who they are beyond "sexy" and (in the case of Billy Zane) "bald."

Here's the premise of The Deep End: Every year, the law firm Sterling (and I kept expecting the show to expand on that with additional partner names or something, but I'm pretty sure it's just called "Sterling") combs the nation's top law schools to find just four young lawyers to join their team, tossing them some tough cases and seeing if they sink or swim. (And, according to the press notes, Mehcad Brooks is going to play a fifth lawyer, who's hired "outside of the firm's traditional procedures," which pretty much means that the show got nervous about how white it was and decided to add a black guy post-pilot.) Anyway, the four that we follow in the pilot are idealistic Dylan, attractive Beth, bubbly Addy and accent-having Liam. Dylan's saddled with a difficult pro bono case, Liam meets a client who tempts him sexually, Beth uncovers a grave secret about one of the firm's board members, and Addy is constantly forced to keep revising work she's doing as her orders keep  changing.

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If that sounds like a lot to cram into a pilot where the premise of the show and the characters also have to be set up, you're probably right. But the show tries to cram in even more! Dylan works with a sexy paralegal with secrets of her own! The firm's various supervisors all try to take the kids under their wings and show 'em the ropes! There's corporate intrigue between Billy Zane doing his best Lex Luthor and some of the other guys at the firm! And everyone has a personal story that the pilot tries to set in motion.

Now, I suppose that all could have been confusing, but it's really not. I think that's probably because the show has one of the worst cases of pilot-itis I've seen in quite a while. Nearly everyone here is explaining basically everything about themselves, just coming out and saying what they're thinking at any given moment or explaining their entire personal histories to each other. It ends up making the whole thing mostly exposition, and that makes everything about the episode feel even more airless and bland than it already is.

There are some hints of promise here. Tina Majorino is always good, and she manages to make Addy an appealing presence despite the cliched notes the character hits. And there are so many promising or genuinely great actors in the cast -Norbert Leo Butz, Matt Long and Rachelle LeFevre for three - that it sure seems like the series has probably come up with something that made all of these people want to sign on for one reason or another. And, honestly, the story of how Dylan gets involved in a seemingly impossible effort to reunite a mother with her son after his grandmother has him legally taken away is fairly well plotted, even if the resolution comes out of nowhere and relies on everyone in the woman's family being completely clueless and/or evil.

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But the overall impression The Deep End leaves is that it doesn't leave much of an impression. Because the show ends up trying to do so much, just about everything it tries to do comes off as flat. There's a big twist at the end of the episode that I didn't see coming, but the whole thing mostly made me think, "Huh. They probably thought that would be a big twist." While I can't say The Deep End is awful (the cast works too hard for that), it's not something I'll want to check out again, and it just leaves me with a very bland taste in my

Stray observations:

  • There's a moment in the episode when one character has done another character a big favor. Now, the latter character has a crush on the former character, so when the former character does the latter character said favor, and latter character says, "I love you!" there's no real reason to have said character act like they've just GIVEN AWAY THE GAME, nor to have the former character act as if this is somehow a frightening thing to have heard. Anyone might say something like "I love you" in that situation.
  • Here's some sparkling dialogue from the show: Chastened girl heading off to do work just after having sex: "I'll get on that right away." Boss: "Looks like you already have."

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