New CBS comedy-drama is based in the world of law
In her return to series work, Marcia Gay Harden is laying down the law as both an attorney and a parent.
A recent Primetime Emmy nominee for her guest part on “The Morning Show,” the Oscar and Tony recipient headlines CBS’ seriocomic “So Help Me Todd,” premiering Thursday, Sept. 29. Harden plays Margaret Wright, whose legal professionalism contradicts the scruffier nature of her son Todd (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” and “Pitch Perfect” alum Skylar Astin), an ex-private eye taking whatever jobs he can get. His help on a case prompts her to hire him as her investigator, and possibly to bridge the gap between them.
“It’s a lovely bubble that’s floating right now,” the pleasant Harden says of her career fortunes lately, “and it feels fantastic, but we know it will pop. What goes up must come down, and that’s the life of being in this business — so when it’s happening (on the positive side), I really cherish every moment. It feels good.”
While cameras aren’t swirling around her constantly as in her last weekly project for CBS, the medical drama “Code Black,” Harden asserts “So Help Me Todd” (on which Dr. Phil McGraw is an executive producer) keeps the rules of the series game largely the same. “You have do it really fast,” she reflects. “It’s almost like theater, except that you don’t get all the rehearsals, so you have to come in and figure things out right away. And I find that fun.”
Harden also finds it challenging to adopt legal jargon in her new role: “What is an arraignment? What is a deposition? These aren’t necessarily words that we all know, other than from television shows, so I find myself looking things up so that I can say them with authority. The writing team is amazing, though, and Skylar and I love to bounce off of each other. They’ve written beautiful banter for us, so … so far, so good.”
In effect, “Pollock” Oscar winner Harden plays Margaret on two levels, serious when it comes to law and lighter in her family relations. She notes that Margaret and Todd “are opposites. He’s digital and she’s analog. She’s exacting, he’s not. She goes by the rules, and he’s about breaking them. And because of that, they have to learn to play as a team.”
Still, Harden stresses another individual aspect of Margaret. ”She is empathic,” the actress says. “Yes, she’s a good lawyer, but she also has this incredible sensibility to what’s going on and to people’s emotions. There are all these books about analyzing someone’s handwriting or how to tell if someone is lying, and I think Margaret has those abilities in high form and uses them.”