Newton’s Law: ABC’s new legal drama is astonishingly bland

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 they hope 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 finds herself 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 airs on ABC on Thursdays at 8.30pm, from February 9

29 responses to “Newton’s Law: ABC’s new legal drama is astonishingly bland

  1. I really can’t comment on the series much, I can’t get tv channels to watch it, but I can say that Greg Walker did a fab job on the sound track! One episode I like – Ep4, at the 50:30 min mark…. My beautiful daughter Abi and her friend Emma singing ‘Rock it!
    Enjoy!

  2. “There’s nothing much glaringly wrong with ABC’s glossy new legal drama, Newton’s Law”, unless you are female, a lawyer and living in the real world. Episode 1 sees a female solicitor from the ‘burbs “lifted up” by a male Silk, given all his work, but only one case at a time, and charmingly patronised. Meanwhile, she has it all – a smart daughter, a good relationship with the ex, a lovely home, and good friends. Even the ex is supportive. An idealised world where being a female lawyer is not a slog, a challenge of time, stress and ego. This is nothing more than a man’s view of what it takes for women to succeed. That is, men to help them and “a good legal mind”. Give me a break. Ben Neutze’s review is just as gutless and blinkered as the show.

  3. Toby Schmitz is apparently 39. But he looks about 28 – maybe 30 in poor light. Claudia Karvan is 44 and looks it. I spent the entire first episode wondering why this fresh-faced boy was lusting after a bedraggled suburban mum who looked almost old enough to be his mum. And why, since he could surely be only just out of law school, he was supposed to be more qualified and more experienced than her. Do the producers, casting agents and ABC executives all have exceedingly poor vision, or do they just not bother with these details?

  4. Yes, yes and yes! I absolutely agree with this review. I am a hue supporter and fan of most Australian dramas on the ABC and absolutely adore Claudia Karvan. Each week I give this show another chance but I just can’t believe how bad it is! The acting, even from Claudia is often awkward and unconvincing and the storylines just don’t hook the viewer in. I’ll be very surprised if this goes beyond Season 1.

  5. I like a lot. Sweet and light, with a heroine who is smarter than everyone else, and always saves the day, works for me.

    It doesn’t all have to be sturm and drang.

  6. Don’t blame the actors , all the characters have potential to be interesting, particularly those downstairs, but the script lets them down. Have the writers done any research? For example in episode 3, the African basket ball players are obviously refugees . Why use the artifice of an American basketball scholarship to explain this week’s main guest character’s refusal to identify who collided with the old man when the immigration legislation exposes the refugees to detention on the basis of the charges only and cancellation of visas , deportation or indefinite detention if convicted?
    Why have the young man agree to plead guilty to resist arrest when the police officer did not identify himself and no offence had been committed and when that offence may place his visa in jeopardy? More at stake equals more tension?
    Also, the attempt at sexual tension between the main character and Lewis is just lame.
    I have given this show 3 episodes to improve enough to hold my interest . I won’t watch it next week.

  7. Lousy scripting, shoddy direction, erratic cutting, illogical blocking, posturing and over playing from over half of the acting company, and under rehearsed unfocused delivery from a few. Pedestrian action underscored with tedious music beds.

    The time is long gone when we could afford to forgive poor scripts, shoddy production and a lack of basic theatrical skills. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries managed to mask most of its own inadequacies with a glowing light of sugary enthusiasm, but Newtons Law is shaping up to be a much more obvious travesty.

    1. Boring and disappointing, don’t think can get through second episode, always the same actors except we want Rake back , switching to sbs.

  8. Bland and uneven performances in the first episode. It did not seem to know what it was really about. Is it comedy? Is it drama? Did not fit any particular genre and whatever it was trying to do missed the mark. Characters needed more fleshing out in the first episode before we jump into somewhat of a complicated and mishmashed plot. The backgrounds of individual characters (if fleshed out) could be interesting and really develop the show, but it sounds like that does not happen. It is the first episode so will persevere.

  9. Astonishingly bland indeed. The legal plot line in the opening episode – Alexander’s disease indeed! Complete with letters under the cupboard – it was just plain silly. The characters are light comedy cliches. They seem to be trying to play adolescents playing big boys and girls. Not sharp. Not mature. Has nobody ever watched North Square? A waste of Ms Karvan’s great talent.

  10. Shame! Having seen the promos, I was really worried this would be the case. It won’t stop me tuning in, though. I would willingly watch hours and hours of Claudia Karvan sitting on a rock reading the White Pages. I’m just over the moon she’s back on free-to-air.
    You know what the ABC should have done? Commission a new series of Time of Our Lives. Now, there was a series rich and dripping in characters you cared about.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed Claudia Karvan’s performances. But when is enough, enough? So many fine actors this country produces. Can’t we share the love around a little? I won’t be watching this one.

  11. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt personally. But I’ve loved Claudia Karvan ever since “The Big Steal”, so it wouldn’t really matter how good the scripts are, I’d still tune in. Nice to have her back on free to air TV again in recent years after an extended gig elsewhere. I thought she did well in her appearances in the “Jack Irish” series last year, another local show that (I think) is worth the time spent watching it.

  12. Maybe in a couple of weeks us plebs can watch the show and make up our own minds as to whether it is all a conspiracy or not.

  13. Putting a former News Ltd employee in charge of OUR ABC always posed a risk that it was a back-room ploy by the Government to destroy it. Whether it was or not it seems to working very effectively. But when it comes to Newton’s Law it is not necessarily a conspiracy. In such circumstances many experts in these matters say to put your money on old fashioned incompetence. Or the criticism could be unfounded.

    1. Speaking of incompetence … obviously E Masey and others who have commented in the same way have no concept of how long it takes to get a drama accepted, commissioned, written and produced before it gets to air. This was in the works LONG before Michelle Guthrie was even interviewed for the position of ABC MD. If you want to blame anyone, blame Mark Scott or Richard Finlayson, one of whom has already left and the other is about to.

  14. So damned derivative I think the term is. Is this the quality of writing out there? (I think it’s not – know it’s not) or have the writers imply written to the Commissioning Editor’s brief? Shame either way. And as for the title… I was expecting something along the lines of ‘Murphy’s Law”. Now that is drama that’s superbly written.

  15. Hold your fire guys. Ben has seen the show and has formed an opinion. I know it’s hard to wait for the silly season to be over, but there is some half-baked comments here.

  16. One can only assume ABC’s new boss is laying the groundwork for a Trump takeover of Oz by commissioning mindlessly boring series or repeat after repeat on tv and on RN, endless repeats of chat shows (LNL excepted) with little or no music to wake us from our slumber. Still, she must be saving the ABC heaps so lets hope her successor has a bucket of funds to splash out on some decent entertainment.

  17. The Murdochification of the ABC proceeds apace. The cynic in me thinks the goal is to so completely erode the quality of the national broadcaster that the Coalition will be able to sell it to their rich mates without anyone prepared to defend it.

    1. I can’t see any evidence of murdochification here, just an underdeveloped show based on the tired legal drama/soapie format. The ABC has produced its share of TV flops to sit beside its successes throughout its history.

  18. The ABC has been knackered. OK, I know it’s still the holidays-doesn’t Stephen Fry ever stop yarping about countries he knows little about? And the reruns and reruns of IQ have turned me off a fine program. In desperation I watch SBS’s history/info programs-actually I find I quite enjoy them. When I leave a station I tend not to go back to it.

    Is there nothing the present government won’t stoop to in order to turn the population into vegetables?

  19. More dumbing down, nothing unusual there. All in IPA manifesto. After removing ALL music from Radio National, replacing it with boring repeat talk shows the aim is clear. Shame all ” politicians are mute on subject.

    1. Oh come on. You can’t blame the IPA for *everything*.

      The fact is that the ABC has been producing glossy, shallow dramas like this for quite some time with only the occasional bright spot (i.e. Rake, but I feel it’s jumped the shark).

      The only good thing about Janet King was Micallef’s parody.

      Writing good drama is hard, but the shows the ABC produces these days seem to require a “message”. The managerial culture and “Art by committee” is simply producing the results one would expect.

      1. David P has the right of it. It’s ridiculous to see a political agenda in a mediocre new TV series, or the decision to change some programs on RN for that matter.

        Quick! To the barricades! Murdoch’s minion and the IPA have told the ABC staff to produce an uninteresting TV drama! It’s the end of the ABC!

        Get a grip.

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