AP NEWS

Katherine Heigl drama faces uphill battle in court of appeal

February 15, 2017

It’s easy to understand why Katherine Heigl was attracted to “Doubt” for her latest shot at a TV comeback.

The CBS drama is “Grey’s Anatomy” in a law firm. It has Shonda Rhimes’ DNA all over it, even though the fabled creator of “Grey’s” and “Scandal” has nothing to do with it (creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater worked as “Grey’s” executive producers).

Like “Grey’s” and “Scandal,” “Doubt” stars a powerful professional woman — Heigl’s crusading defense attorney Sadie Ellis ­— having an inappropriate relationship — here, her client and murder suspect Dr. Billy Brennan (Steven Pasquale, “Rescue Me”) — in a story that suggests a hasty rewrite of the Martha Moxley case.

The ensemble orbiting the two ups Rhimes’ renowned diversity by including transgender actress Laverne Cox (“Orange Is the New Black”) as transgender, Ivy League-educated attorney Cameron Wirth.

Fussy father figure and legendary litigator Isaiah Roth (Elliott Gould, “Ray Donovan”) heads the firm that also includes principled attorney Albert Cobb (Dule Hill, “Psych”); second-year law student Tiffany Snow (Dreama Walker, “The Good Wife”), who is more April Kepner than April Kepner; and Nick Brady (Kobi Libii, “Madam Secretary”), a felon who earned his law degree while in prison and gets a job just by refusing to leave the office.

Judith Light (“Transparent,” “Dallas”), almost unrecognizable, makes a last-minute appearance tonight in a scene that twists and grounds Sadie in a way that nothing else before it has.

She’s apparently only recurring, but “Doubt” could use more of her. (Every TV series could use more of Light.)

Sadie’s family backstory might make Meredith Grey feel like one of Donna Reed’s kids.

Like early “Grey’s,” “Doubt” has trouble settling on a tone, swerving from comedy to drama to romance.

The various cases Sadie and her associates take on in the first three episodes — including a killer who plays mind games with his counsel and a rape victim sued for harassment by her rapist — play as if they were cribbed from episodes of David E. Kelley’s “The Practice.”

The romance and mystery underpinning apparently the first season — did handsome pediatric surgeon and Kennedy-esque figure Billy Brennan murder his girlfriend 24 years earlier in a New York park — never builds any tension.

As much as Emmy winner Heigl imbues her character with intelligence and ambition, Sadie comes off as a moron for crossing ethical lines and getting involved with her client. They spark about as much as two cans of tomato soup.

While the cast is competent, Cox seems to have difficulty with her lines in some scenes. With time, she may relax into her role, but I have misgivings “Doubt” will be around long enough for anyone to get comfortable.

Imitation Shonda Rhimes just isn’t as good as the real thing.