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Newton’s Law needs a shot of adrenaline


It may star perennially popular Australian actress Claudia Karvan, but new ABC series Newton’s Law is astonishingly bland compared with recent legal dramas Janet King and Rake, writes Ben Neutze.

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There’s nothing much glaringly wrong with ABC’s glossy new legal drama, Newton’s Law. Its performances are generally fine, there are no massive faults in any of the narrative, and the direction is appropriately stylish and intelligent.

But dear lord, this series desperately needs a shot of adrenaline.

After the sharp, if occasionally flawed, intensity of Janet King, and the wild, almost absurdist hilarity of Rake, the ABC has commissioned another legal drama which it hopes will have even broader appeal than its recent shows.

Newton’s Law is created by veteran Deb Cox, Fiona Egger, and Anna Molyneaux, and stars Claudia Karvan as Josephine, a suburban solicitor who finds herself thrust back into the high-flying world of a swanky barristers’ chambers.

She eventually ends up working closely with Lewis (Toby Schmitz), a charismatic and successful senior counsel who was friends with Josephine at university. There’s clear sexual tension between the two.

At the same time, Josephine’s old friend and colleague Helena (Georgina Naidu) starts up her own boutique solicitors’ firm in the basement of the chambers, in an old car-wash office. Helena was previously wrongfully accused of embezzling money, but Josephine sees this opportunity as her friend’s chance to regain her confidence and pull her life back together.

The series is being billed as the Upstairs, Downstairs of legal dramas, but the connections and tensions between the various tiers of the legal world never feel particularly pertinent or … tense.

There are shows on the ABC that I’ve hated more than Newton’s Law, but never one that felt so completely without a purpose. I can’t possibly understand why this show has been funded and commissioned.

Most of the cases fall flat but not nearly as flat as the family relationships Josephine has to deal with. She has a daughter and a husband from whom she has separated. Not much happens.

All of these characters feel familiar, but I still managed to finish three one-hour episodes without getting a great grasp on who any of them are. Toby Schmitz’s character, in particular, is written as just a series of shorthand gestures for the smart, sophisticated and sexy barrister. He does his best to lift it to something more interesting but there’s only so much that can be done with writing this dull.

Miranda Tapsell’s appearance as Skye, a bright young thing who has recently landed a job with a top insurance firm, is a real highlight and gives the show its most lively moments. Otherwise, it’s astonishingly bland.

Newton’s Law feels very much like a show commissioned and crafted to appeal to “broad audiences”. I’m predicting that decision will backfire — in trying to appeal to everybody by shaving off any rough edges, it feels like something that won’t appeal particularly strongly to anybody.

I don’t think this is a show that will be taken into Australian hearts or achieve consistently strong ratings. Only time will tell if I’m right.

It’s polite, and the performers are sometimes charming. It might have done well a decade or two ago, but when there’s so much genuinely original and exciting content on screens, it’s difficult to imagine anybody would want to spend their time watching something so generic.

Newton’s Law will screen on the ABCs on Thursdays at 8.30pm from February 9.

This article was first published on The Daily Review.

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