Sunday, June 05, 2005

TV review: Law & Order: Trial by Jury

One of us was hiding the stash and the other was doing windmills and shouting, "Just a minute, Mother!"

It was your typical Friday night. Tunes on the radio, wet towel under the door and roach clips
. . . well, all over.

One minute we were contemplating our hopefully bright futures, the next we were very much in the present. Could things get much worse?

"I made brownies, so why don't you come on downstairs? You know it is your father's birthday."

Groans and eye rolls as we sprayed air freshner, chewed gum quickly and checked one another's pupils.

Down the stairs we went, descending into boring, suburbia conformity. It may not have been the start of the week, but it certainly felt like another "Pleasant Valley Sunday." A little earlier and we no doubt would have heard "The Hissing of Summer Lawns."

There was a parental unit zoned out in front of the TV in the lazy boy recliner. We nodded to acknowledge his grunt and made our way in front of the coffee table while wondering where the brownies were? Honest to God, it didn't matter that we'd finished dinner an hour ago, we were starving. Looking at one another, we burst into a giggling fit leading to the usual injured question of "What's so damn funny?"

Saved by the arrival of brownies, we eagerly dove in while the parental units spoke to one another in that distant, detached way they had. By all that is holy, we hope we die before we get old.

"They thought a nice way to celebrate your birthday would be to come down and watch your favorite show with you."

That was greeted with a harumph as he grabbed for a brownie and eyed us suspiciously. Should we have doused ourselves in fragrance? He was such a straight arrow, tight ass, surely he couldn't place the smell, right?

"Well, it's not my favorite show. My favorite show is the original. This is just a pale copy."

"Well, honey, if you'd like to watch something else --"

Before she could reach the remote, he cut her off with, "This is just fine."

"Brownies and cake in one night," he grumbled but we noticed that didn't stop him from eating one.

Oh Lord, that theme. It's so cocktail jazz. Honest, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass would be embarrassed to perform it. Law & Order: Trial by Jury. As a general rule, we believe you should always avoid any show whose title contains a colon. Colon. We were laughing again.

"Is everything in the world funny to you two jokers?"

"No, not everything. For instance, the war isn't funny. There's nothing funny about the current invasion/occupation, or the people who are dying, or the government that's lying. Not a thing funny there."

Oh wait, did one of us say that out loud?

"War is not healthy for children and other living things. Thank God we aren't a part of the military industrial infotainment complex that turns it all into some video game far removed from the actual blood and destruction."

Oh, there goes the other.

"Show's starting so you two America haters can just shut it."

"Now what's this show about, honey," asked Mother trying to smooth things over.

"Law & Order. Law & Order: Trial by Jury. Jesus Christ, don't you pay attention to anything?"

"I was just trying to make conversation," Mother huffed.

"Well commercials are over, show's on, so shut it."

The dull domestic dramas of conformity. We didn't know which was worse, what was on the screen or what we were seeing in our own living room. Dear God, please let us die before we get old.

In English class, Mrs. Head -- what a strange name -- has been teaching us about point of view. This show's point of view would have to be "Law good, everyone guilty." It's as though the entire franchise was thought up by some spoiled, sheltered prep school boy who used to pin the Confedrate flag on his walls.

All the Law & Orders suck. They do not, however, all suck equally. But, yes, they all suck.

Utilizing the "ripped from the headlines" storylines to save on hiring real writers (Warner Bros. did the same thing in the thirties and forties with their B-movies), plot's not the only thing taking a holiday from the franchise, engaging dialogue and characterization are also missing.

This version basically stars Bebe Neuwirth who shot to fame playing the monotonal Lilith on Cheers and, later, on Fraiser. She's not doing any stretching in this role. If Neuwrith's TV persona were a handshake, it would be cold and clammy.

Also in the cast is Fred the Pitbull Thompson. Thompson's an "actor" now because he manages to recite his dialogue word for word and utilize the same irritable expression in scene after scene. Having conquered the Senate and bad TV shows, if he next pursues product endorsements, we'd recommend he schill for fiber products since his sole expression can best be described as constipated.

In this cast, Neuwrith is practically the youngster. Remember, don't trust anyone over thirty. Which leaves you with no one to root for.

Forty minutes into the show, as you see a videotape and then watch the attornies bicker over whether or not it should be played in court (the judge rules that it should), you start to long for the deeper meanings of Dragnet.

To remind everyone how limited the acting range required for this show is, Candice Bergen pops up for a few minutes. With Murphy Brown, she went from Hollywood joke to respected actress.
Diane English is no longer around to prop her up and feed her lines so she's about as interesting as Charlie McCarthey left lying on a table. Wait, that's too harsh. Charlie's face was much more animated than Bergan's. Whether she's playing the villain in Miss Congeniality, the shrew in Sweet Home Alabama or the nag in The In-Laws, Bergen's fond of popping her eyes and doing this half-a-head-roll move. She uses them in this role as well. No, we can't figure out why either.

In the world of Dick Wolf, Candice Bergen is the perfect actress. She's as flat as every other detail in his shows. He doesn't have to worry that after the initial, "Oh look, it's Candy Bergen!" moment that anyone's going to be distracted further.

Making what we're sure was a brave acting choice, Amy Carlson sports cleavage often. Since the show provides no backstory for any of the characters, we invented our own.

Carlson's Kelly Gaffney (who thinks up these names?) (or were they "ripped from the phone book?") was a mousy, flat chested thing throughout high school and college. As her gift for getting into law school, her boyfriend, Lance Beverly, paid for implants. Alas, Kelly was so overjoyed at the prospect of permanently strapping on two floatation devices, she failed to check and see where Lance, a poor boy from uptown, got the money. Turns out he was dealing crack. Kelly found this out after he was arrested. She took an an oath, then and there, to clean up the streets and to wait for Lance to finish serving his term. But he got shanked in prison, probably for having the name Lance Beverly, and now she's left with only the sense of purpose and the memory of him. So every time she lifts and drops the implants, she's doing it to remember him. She must think of him constantly.

Carlson won a daytime Emmy for playing Josie on Another World in 1998. Her big moment, that no doubt cinched the win, was when Josie, four months pregnant, got shoved out a window, fell five stories, landed on a trampoline and miscarried. After that, it's no surprise Carlson's drained. Which explains her low key, some might say non-existant, characterization at present.

The show's nothing if not reserved and Republican. By comparsion, Mayberry was a regular Peyton Place what with Thelma Lou and Barney, among others. To get through this show, you need something much harder than what we stashed upstairs. Watching the continuous debate over the arcane, we wondered when Wolf would turn his attention to Law & Order: The Plumbers Division. The merits of washers and screws could be debated for hours, no doubt.

Somewhere near the end we dozed off. Missing, we're sure, a cliff hanging verdict full of long pauses and quick close ups.

"Well, wasn't that nice?" Mother asked, waking us. "All four of us sharing an evening together. We could make this our special time and this our special show."

"We can't," one of us said as we both stood up. "Unlike the war, Law & Order: Trial by Jury has been cancelled."

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