There are four television genres that I would not miss if they were to be erased from the pages of T.V. Guide forever, and unfortunately they comprise like 90% of the prime-time landscape: fat guy-hot wife sitcoms, doctor dramas, procedural crime dramas, and legal dramedys. The networks keep pumping them out, though, and I keep watching them, possibly as some sort of penance for unspecified sins. This year we have two legal shows to contend with, because apparently I offended the TV gods at some point. Maybe by not watching that INXS show this summer, I don’t know. At least neither of these is a David E. Kelley production.

The Formula:
Just Legal = Doogie Howser M.D. + Perry Mason

In Just Legal, wunderkind Skip Ross (Jay Baruschel) is a smart, idealistic 18-year-old fresh who got into and out of law school in record time. Grant Cooper (Don Johnson) is a burnt-out, drunken ambulance chaser who makes a living plea-bargaining for petty criminals. Fate throws them together, and they set off to defend the innocent while learning some lessons about the law and themse–

Sorry, where was I? I fell asleep there for a second. I suppose I should be glad that there’s a show where the cops don’t always get it right as a matter of course and where defense lawyers are more than just irredeemable slimeballs (they’re redeemable slimeballs!), just so that there’s something out there to balance Law & Order. But Skip is awkward and feckless to the point of annoyance, and Cooper is just a grade-B stock Man With Personal Demons to Purge. I’ll pass, thanks.

The Formula:
Head Cases = L.A. Law Jerry Maguire + (Rain Man × 2)

On the face of it, Head Cases doesn’t sound any more promising: Jason Payne (Chris O’Donnell) is so busy being a high-powered attorney and keeping his panic attacks under control that he loses his family and is surprised by his subsequent nervous breakdown. His outpatient therapy includes getting paired up with another looney-bin lawyer, not-so-high-powered Schultz (Adam Goldberg), who has “intermittent explosive disorder,” which basically means that he’s an obnoxious and occasionally violent loudmouth.

Shows that revolve around people acting out and being spastic jerks are usually a big turnoff for me, but Head Cases has a couple of things going for it. For one, the legal side of things is pretty skimpy, which for me is a relief. For another, O’Donnell and Goldberg do a pretty good job of playing guys who are trying not to be assholes in spite of themselves, and sometimes succeeding. It’s vaguely reminiscent of when Arnie Becker on L.A. Law tried to go good, or of Jerry Maguire (i.e., the only remotely tolerable Tom Cruise movie ever). And now that I think of it, the chemistry between Payne and his once-and-future secretary, Nicole (Rhea Seehorn) is very much like that between Cruise and Zellweger, but O’Donnell doesn’t have the patina of crazy evil that Cruise sports, so that’s a plus. Like Jerry Maguire, Head Cases is a bad idea and full of flaws, but somehow manages to be watchable in spite of itself.