'Doubt' presents weak case for CBS legal drama

Katherine Heigl, Dule Hill in 'Doubt'

(CNN)"Doubt" assembles such an impressive cast it's easy to wish they had more ambitious material with which to play. As is, this CBS legal drama delivers a steady dose of "The Good Wife"-lite-type banter, without presenting much of an argument to keep watching.

The show's structure introduces a minor wrinkle to the network's meat-and-potatoes procedural formula, offering one serialized plot thread surrounded by a lot of more ho-hum elements.
Katherine Heigl -- making her latest dramatic stop on a TV network tour since exiting "Grey's Anatomy" -- anchors that central storyline as Sadie Ellis, an attorney who finds herself being drawn to the dreamy pediatric surgeon (Steven Pasquale) she's defending in a murder trial.
"You shouldn't have kissed me," she says not very convincingly when that finally happens, which is only an indication that this whole sexual-tension/mutual-attraction problem won't be going away anytime soon.
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Fortunately, Heigl is only a small part of a high-powered ensemble that includes colleagues portrayed by "The West Wing's" Dule Hill, "Orange is the New Black's" Laverne Cox and Elliot Gould as the firm's imperious, slightly quirky patriarch. Yet if Cox's casting as a transgender woman was hailed as something of a breakthrough on stodgy old CBS, she's left spouting pretty banal courtroom dialogue for the most part, along with everyone else.
Series creators Tony Phelan and Joan Rater spent years honing their craft on "Grey's," and clearly picked up a thing or two about series that balance characters' personal strife -- including awkward (and in Sadie's case, ethically questionable) romances -- within a workplace setting.
While "Doubt" isn't bad necessarily, nor is there much to distinguish it from a host of legal series, past or present. The main question, seemingly, is whether the main trial can muster enough twists to pull viewers along, because based on a three-episode sampling there's not enough going on elsewhere to merit a favorable judgment.
As noted, the strong cast at least creates the possibility that things will improve. For now, though, "Doubt" is aptly named -- less because of the reasonable-doubt standard Sadie that needs to meet than the fact that those who stick around will be giving this slender vehicle the benefit of it.
"Doubt" premieres February 15 at 10 p.m. on CBS.