William Shatner recently used “Boston Legal” to gain back a good deal of the credibility he lost from those commercials. So it’s not surprising that now-obscure James Woods is trying to do the same thing with his new show “Shark.”

Angela Cesere
“Hey, remember me?” (Courtesy of CBS)

Woods plays Sebastian Stark, a vicious criminal defense attorney who has a crisis of conscience and takes on a relatively innocuous new job as a prosecutor. Think of him as an uglier Jerry Maguire, except Stark certainly retains most of his former immorality even after his transformation.

“Shark” isn’t attempting anything new. Its basic premise – that lawyers will bend every law to win a case, despite their own ethics – isn’t a novel point, but the appeal of the show lies in its performances, not its story. Woods plays the smart-ass Stark with a perfect balance of grit and heart, as he fights for a case and for his daughter’s affection with equal enthusiasm.

Also noteworthy is Jeri Ryan, who plays District Attorney Jessica Devlin, a tough female role not new to her or anybody else, but necessary to give the show a sense of balance. As Woods’s one-dimensional backup, however, she seems to have no major role but to serve as a target for Stark’s razor-sharp wit. She fails to add any depth to the show, and insight into the personal lives of latte-sipping secretaries and upstart young attorneys will not develop in any good direction.

“Shark” might find a unique place among law shows if it spends less time on tired legal stereotypes and focuses on developing Stark’s personal life. Lawyer shows are as common as lawyers themselves, but these days a simple family show is an unorthodox concept.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thursdays at 10 p.m.

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