When Kathy Bates dropped her robe and slipped into the hot tub with Jack Nicholson in the movie About Schmidt, everyone weighed in on the wisdom, courage, or folly of an older, full-figured woman taking such a chance with her career and her reputation. In a world obsessed with young, nymph-like creatures whose sizes are measured in 0s or 2s, this was counterintuitive. Yet she pulled it off and added it to a list of memorable roles.
Who can forget the heinous acts of her twisted Annie Wilkes in the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery? She morphed from caregiver to torturer as she lived out her obsession with author Paul Sheldon. I haven’t been able to look at my antique Underwood typewriter the same way ever since.
Most recently, Kathy Bates, now 62, has reinvented herself as Harriet (?Harry?) Korn in a new David E. Kelley TV series called Harry’s Law. Korn is an ex-patent lawyer who was fired from a lucrative position and ended up opening a practice in a former shoe store in a bad part of town. Amid the Manolos and Louboutins, she and her cohorts take on the tough, the disenfranchised, the destitute.
Korn is cranky and tough. She is principled and wise. She speaks eloquently during her closing statements, often tying her defence to today’s hottest issues. While there is a distinct soapbox quality to these remarks, she gets away with it because we want to believe in her and in justice and in the hope that good will prevail. She wins her cases and lifts up the downtrodden. Best of all, though, she is human. She’s not a sex goddess in stilettos and designer suits. She’s lumpy and bumpy. She’s old.
There is something hopeful in having a woman like Bates as a role model. If a feisty old broad like Harry (or Kathy) can have success, gain respect, and make a difference, then there is hope for all of us. It is the antidote to ageism and our preoccupation with beauty. It acknowledges that there is more to a woman than the superficial.
David E. Kelley has a proven track record with legal dramas like Boston Legal, The Practice, and Ally McBeal. In a wasteland of reality shows and faux celebrity/faux talent, Harry’s Law is a welcome breath of fresh air. There are ethical dilemmas that don’t involve backstabbing a fellow contestant. There are many black actors, and they’re not all bad guys. There is a loud, obnoxious lawyer who, wouldn’t you know it, turns out to have some redeeming qualities under his snake-like behaviour. If the quality of the writing holds up and the series can avoid the death knell of relying on formula and boring us to tears, this show will be a bright spot on Monday nights. If not, it will be short-lived.
I’m betting on Harry to carry the day because if she does, that would be justice, from where I sit.