Lights . . . Camera . . . Sex, Sex, Sex!
Reviews on Television Legal Shows
By now, you’ve probably noticed that L.A. Law is gone (except for the eternal reruns). In its place, as if spawned by aliens, are at least 16 more legal shows. You can watch one any time of the day or night.
We thought it would be fun to get some lawyers and judges to look at some of the current shows and give us their opinions. We know that nobody watches television, and that all our reviewers did this as a special favor to us, and we thank them.
You may want to take notes and guide your TV viewing accordingly (although we know you don’t watch it either).
100 CENTRE STREET By Hon. Bob Kapelke
Tuesday, 8 p.m., A&E
In one "100 Centre Street" episode, Judge Joe Rifkind (Alan Arkin) struggles with a host of "love" issues. He has to sentence his bailiff’s son for a DUI, and the bailiff shows "tough love" by insisting that his son spend the night in jail and receive no special treatment. A mother of a teenager charged with setting a homeless man aflame refuses to believe her son could be guilty and goes ballistic when the son agrees to take a plea. In a "physical love" segment, Judge Joe imposes a "time-already served" sentence on a young man who was caught with his pants down in Central Park with a girlfriend. In the course of explaining his sentence, his Honor utters this memorable line: "No more flagrante delicto al fresco!"
The scriptwriting is excellent in this show, and fidelity to the realities of the courtroom rates about a B-. On the other hand, the quality of the acting is outstanding. Alan Arkin makes a wonderfully practical and passionate judge. In a somewhat sentimental final scene, Judge Joe takes his lunch to the cemetery where he holds a "dialogue" with his deceased father. I think I’m hooked.
PHILLY (or is it Filly?) By Bill Walters
Tuesday, 9 p.m., Channel 7
Cheese steak? American Bandstand? Fabian, Rocky, do-wop? Forget it.
Forced to watch by the editors from hell (Diane, Karen & Molly), I endured a total of 40 commercials in 60 minutes.
The temptation is to point out all the legal inaccuracies and the unfair images of the profession and the judiciary. This is law and action (not order), and accuracy is not the issue. The writers keep 17 plots running simultaneously to cover up lousy writing and plot lines.
What is "Philly" about (other than Kim Delaney’s short skirts and frazzled look as she fends off lecherous clients, lawyers and judges)? Surprise! It’s about sex, sex and more sex. From the opening trial on improper sexual advances to the "act" among consenting adults in the bathroom, to the DAs attempt to trade sex for filing a motion, to the lawyer on trial who leers and makes rude comments to women, to Kim’s partner who tries to put the moves on another lawyer. Professional misconduct abounds in many and varied guises. While it’s easy to blast this show for its wretched, miserable and inaccurate view of lawyers and judges, it really needs to be junked for its vapid, simplistic plotline and acting.
ALLY MCBEAL by Tom MacDonald
Monday, 8 p.m., FOX
Would I watch Ally McBeal and write a reaction? The Docket staff’s not sure anybody else will admit to watching the show. My wife loves the show. I only watch because she likes it. Sure, I like the irreverent attacks on all the politically correct verities, finding humor in Tourrette’s Syndrome, midgets, therapy, cross-dressing, sexual harassment and sex in general. And I like the beautiful women. Ling ("with a soft g") is my favorite. She’s brilliant, beautiful and certain that all men desire her—and I can’t contradict her. Knowing her power over us, she disdains us as weak. A great counterpoint to Ally’s neurotic floundering, she may be the best female character since Xena. But I only watch the show because my wife likes it.
Does it have anything to do with the practice of law? No, these people are too busy having sex to practice law. But it is funny, and the music is good. Besides, who wants to watch a show about what I do?
FAMILY LAW by Barbara Salomon
Monday, 9 p.m., Channel 4
There’s trashy TV, and then there’s really trashy TV. In "Family Law," the priests curse, the lawyers (when not sniping at their clients) are either sniping at or bedding each other. It seemed like there was an ethical violation every five minutes. As I watched it from beginning to end, I remembered why I had turned off the premier after ten minutes.
Here’s the good news: I realized where those clients who want to maim and torture (at least, financially) their about-to-be ex-spouse get the idea. This show makes our old family law buddy Arnie Becker from L.A. Law look like Atticus Finch. Oh, and the "good lawyer" gets burned, literally (rescuing a meth-cooking son of a client from the family home the son blows up). P.S.: The good lawyer was a guy—not one of the humorless, back-biting bitches who run the firm. Makes me feel really great about the image of women lawyers. Of course, the guy is emotionally impaired and his lawyer-associate-lover-or-whatever walks out on nursing his burns. I don’t know how else the guy is impaired (in addition to the obvious excision of his sense of humor). That no doubt will be the story line for a future episode.
Please, dear Docket, don’t ever make me watch this show again. I am really a West Wing fan. I get enough legal drama at the office.
JUDGING AMY by Craig Eley
Tuesday, 9 p.m., Channel 4
Judging Amy is more soap opera than lawyer show. Amy’s mother, played by Tyne Daly, is cursed with a grown son and daughter who still fight like middle-schoolers. "Why are we fighting all the time? Why can’t we stop?" Amy asks her brother, Vincent. "Maybe because if we stop fighting we’ll find out that that’s all there is," he somberly replies.
In this episode, Rene Auberjonois plays a haughty chief judge. He informs Daly’s character, Maxine, that he intends to close down Sanctuary House, an institution for abused children that Maxine started, because his buddy, the Lt. Governor, took offense at something Maxine publicly said about him in a previous episode. Nothing personal, just politics, says the judge, who defines his friendship with the powerful Lt. Governor as "an interlocking, mutually beneficial relationship."
Later, Judge Amy presides over the trial of two high school girls who put such lewd comments about their classmates on their Web site that one of them killed herself in shame. It was a journalism class project the girls protested—they got more hits when they put up salacious stories, and a successful Web presence would help them get into the best journalism schools. Judge Amy finds there is not sufficient evidence to support a manslaughter charge and the girls get off. The judge then decrees a transcript of the entire sordid trial be permanently appended to their high school transcripts. "We’ll see how those college admission boards react to that," she sagely declares. I wonder how the high school office staff will react to having to duplicate and send out three pounds of material to every college to which the girls apply.
O Justice, when expelled from other habitations, make television thy dwelling place.
LAW AND ORDER by Hon. Ray Satter
Friday, 9 p.m., Channel 9
This is my favorite of all the "cop and lawyer" shows. It comes close enough to reality to be intriguing. The lawyers cite cases to judges. Judges rule; the trials go on. Sometimes the prosecutors win; sometimes they lose. Sometimes there is justice; sometimes there is a travesty of justice. It’s a lot like reality.
The episode I watched was a perfect example. Eccentric personalities (who turned out to be brother and sister) are type-cast in a plot to get rid of a bag-lady tenant who prevents the owners of a building from selling it for $10 million. When the DAs decide to take the case to the grand jury, we get a fairly accurate view into the secret world of grand jury proceedings. The overconfident DA decides not to present expert evidence and the grand jury declines to indict.
The plot twists and turns until the very end, with occasional wry humor from the major characters.
I do miss the old days with Adam, the crusty old DA, who would say things like "Don’t invite me to your disbarment party" or "Why can’t you guys file a case that we can win once in a while." It reminds me of my old partner, Harvey P. Wallace (R.I.P.), who would say, "I hope your malpractice is paid" upon my return from devastating defeat in court.
LAW AND ORDER CRIMINAL INTENT by Hon. Claudia Jordan
Sunday, 8 p.m., Channel 9
Remember when Perry Mason and Ben Matlock solved their cases in the courtroom?
In 2001, we have detectives solving the crime before arraignment, before the preliminary hearing, before the jury is sworn, before evidence is presented.
Imagine the real "killer" being charged with the crime. This plot is much the same; several people have a motive to kill the victim. The meanderings are entertaining while the real killer is being flushed out. The show I watched was entertaining and realistic.
Having heard some unreasonable tales recently, my reality seems to be changing. It is not difficult to imagine that greed causes pain and, in turn, that pain will lead to an act that cannot be taken back—homicide.
Since few lawyers solve crimes in the courtroom it is a reality check to see law enforcement getting the recognition it deserves. Given the choice between Matlock, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, I choose Matlock!
LAW AND ORDER, SVU by Mike Decker
Friday, 9 p.m., Channel 9
Spin-offs from "Law & Order" are franchising faster than Starbucks. The original show split each episode between police investigation and courtroom proceedings—but this one focused on the investigation of a murder with no actual courtroom activity. While TV shows usually have a case investigated, tried and sentenced within an hour, we know most real cases involve significant investigation and preparation. This episode highlighted the ups and downs that occur as attorneys prepare to bring their case to trial. As a result, the general public probably got a better sense of the daily work required by the profession.
Of course, they threw in a little Hollywood embellishment. Murder suspects would freely talk to police and district attorneys without once asking for an attorney. All of the characters owned designer wardrobes. Both Richard Belzer, a comedian, and Ice-T, a rapper who gained notoriety for his controversial single "Cop Killer," were cast as police officers—roughly the pop culture equivalent of casting Ralph Nader as an attorney representing GM. Go figure.
THE PRACTICE by Joe Webb
Sunday, 9 p.m., Channel 9
In this episode, a suspect is being questioned by Deputy D.A. Helen. Defense counsel Jimmy. goes to the police department in search of his client, who had been arrested on murder charges. Jimmy asks to see his client, but is told by Helen that his client had already been transported to central booking (a lie). Jimmy, a good defense attorney, tells Helen not to question his client. After saying she would not question the suspect, she did (the interview was priceless, see the re-run), and subsequently obtained a confession. Jimmy finds out: Helen lied about the suspect not being at the police station; and Helen questioned the suspect after Jimmy told her not to. Jimmy wants the confession thrown out.
The oversimplified question is whether Helen can lie to Jimmy about the whereabouts of his client and deceive the suspect by not telling him his lawyer was in the hall waiting to see him.
When Helen presented her reasoning to the state court, the judge found that the federal court would allow Helen to lie, but the state would not allow such behavior, so the suspect was released. Not to be outdone again by Bobby Donaldson’s law firm, Helen had the federal prosecutor arrest the suspect under federal charges (forum shopping?). The federal judge found that Helen is allowed to lie, but that her interrogation was effectively coercion (you had to be there) because the suspect was stupid.
The Docket invites comments from readers who might have glimpsed one or two shows and have strong opinions. Send civil thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.