The TV lawyer can vary depending on the show in which the character is used, and does so in some spectacular ways. The actions of a character in such a profession can differ so much depending on their moral standpoint and their natural aptitude for the line of work. A competent lawyer lacking any moral integrity can be a very compelling watch yet as true as this is, a lawyer without any skill or gumption can be just as entertaining.
There’s an impressive array of TV layers out there and as follows are a handful of the greats.
Jackie Chiles – SEINFELD (1989-1998)
The character, parodying famed attorney Johnnie Cochran who is best known for the defence and criminal acquittal of O. J. Simpson, first appeared in the shows latter end as Cosmo Kramer’s attorney… And what a performance he delivered.
The character is said to have perfectly mimicked Cochran’s ennunciation and delivery, he even developed a catch phrase of sorts. Reoccurring schtick would include belting out four adjectives in succession and would always end with him screeching the word ‘outrageous’. Along with a variety other minor SEINFELD characters Jackie Chiles landed a prominent role in the shows finale. He was responsible for the group’s acquittal, or lack there of from the outrageous Good Samaritans law.
What’s funniest about Chiles is his determination and dedication to each case he works on. He fights to the bitter end, even when his clients are obviously monstrous people who no jury with any moral inclination would ever excuse from prosecution. Just like every great SEINFELD character Chiles is completely over the top and in a lot of respects fairly annoying. Much like the main cast of SEINFELD he is an eccentric person and has no problem whatsoever alienating anyone standing in his path.
Lionel Hutz – THE SIMPSONS (1989-present)
THE SIMPSONS surely has the most impressive collection of characters on TV. The show’s back catalogue of bit part and recurring characters is just staggering and the bumbling Lionel Hutz is no exception.
Many Simpsons’ characters are eligible to be included in ’best tv’ lists such as this and Lionel Hutz is no exception. The Simpsons has a staggering cast of both prominent and less regular characters, each one with whole a lot of appeal. Hutz is an almost perfect TV lawyer; he’s totally incompetent, unreliable, untrustworthy and to-boot often in trouble with the law himself. Without Hutz several of Springfield’s reprobates might well have ended up doing a stint in Juvy Hall but realistically their freedom relies far more heavily on Judge Roy Snyder’s “Boys will be boys” ruling.
Hutz is a dangerously under qualified lawyer for those on a tight budget and desperate for representation. If you require Hutz’s services you can find in him in Springfield Mall twiddling his thumbs away in his shop ‘I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm!’ Hutz offers a variety of amusing free gifts such as a Smoking monkey doll, a pen that looks like a cigar, an exotic faux-pearl necklace and a business card that turns into a sponge when you put it in water.
Maurice Levy – THE WIRE – (2002-2008)
Michael Kostroff played this slimy attorney for those running the dark underbelly of Baltimore in THE WIRE. Maurice Levy worked alongside drug lords Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell to advise them on how to conduct business discreetly in an effort to avoid any investigations.
The character is portrayed to have to no ethical compass whatsoever and more than willing to represent any number of morally deprived clients without qualm. He has an insatiable greed and appears to get quite the kick from his inexcusable deeds.
More so than anything Levy is notable for his professional outlook on his more than shady practice. Every client that he represents will sure enough receive a more than thorough service and Levy will carry on working regardless of any moral quandary complicating matters. As complex as the character dynamics in THE WIRE already are, Maurice Levy’s role in the drama at times beg debate as to which players in ‘the game’ we should really be rooting for. When push comes to shove though, in THE WIRE, you can pretty much guarantee anyone under Levy’s representation is a rotten egg.
Saul Goodman – BREAKING BAD (2008-present)
The critically acclaimed drama BREAKING BAD has blessed us with Saul Goodman who is yet another lawyer that, although well read, is mostly corrupt. Saul will do almost anything for a quick buck, but has no issue with going to extreme lengths to get his grubby paws on a nice big bag of loot.
Goodman’s clients consist mainly, possibly even entirely of Albuquerque’s delinquents. It’s nice to imagine that the most skilled lawyers and attorneys are the ones that represent all of the actual criminals. It must take a lot of dedication to gather the skill set for the amount of weaseling needed to ensure that actual criminals slip through the loopholes in the justice system. For this reason characters such as Goodman and Levy stand out, but what sets Saul apart from Maurice is the fact that he’s a genuinely hilarious character.
Bob Odenkirk, who portrays the character, has a good history in comedy and was pretty much the perfect person for the role. Saul Goodman for the most part is fairly goofy and at times a wormy little coward. When matched face to face with the likes of Gustavo Fring (played by Giancarlo Esposito) the otherwise devious and surprisingly cunning Goodman becomes pathetically weak- at- the-knees and less of a task for Fring to out fox than even the likes of Jesse Pinkman.
Goodman certainly sets the bar pretty high as far as bumbling, corrupt TV lawyers are concerned but as entertaining as he is to watch in BREAKING BAD he is very essential to the plot. Goodman supplies scape-goats and countless get out of jail free cards and without his relentless squirming and scheming Walter White wouldn’t be in his current situation, and his current situation is just fantastic viewing.
Phillip Banks – THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR (1990-1996)
An unlikely candidate you might think. But who better to squeeze in at the end than a man who truly embodies the American dream. Phillip Banks, a farm boy, went literally from rags to riches through sheer determination and hard work. Phillip Banks is an honest man, a funny man and a fine role model but most of all a very very competent lawyer.
Critics might argue that Mr Banks cannot qualify for this list as he spent the most part of his time on THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR as Judge Phillip Banks. I think he deserves a place on this though, unlike most of the other candidates for this countdown Uncle Phil managed to leap into the prosecuting chair in a city truly riddled with crime, and did so whilst raising a four children and a nephew he really could have done without.
Phillip Banks as a character was an almost perfectly formed adult male. He enjoyed the finer things in life and was totally accustomed to his home comforts. He was no stranger to total over indulgence and at times a greedy little piggy. During the day Phil sat in a seat of power and delivered judgement to the criminals of L.A, yet at home he was able to take all of his nephews antics in good spirit and dealt with his misdeeds with total control and appropriate guidance.
A father figure, a lawyer, a judge and to top it off, an American. Judge Phillip Banks formerly Phillip Banks Attorney at Law surely deserves credit for his contribution to the TV lawyer archetype.
Will Truman – WILL & GRACE (1998-2006)
Many shows include a lawyer type character. Some are funny, some are totally compelling and dramatic, but sometimes they are just bland and flavourless. Will Truman from WILL & GRACE is exactly this. Much like Phillip Banks and Maurice Levy he’s certainly professional and competent, but watching him on screen is nothing but a chore. Professionally, he’s straight as an arrow, and from all accounts a top-notch lawyer but all of these qualities still don’t detract from his insipid personality and totally boring home life with the equally uninteresting Grace Adler.