[06/12/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Justice" (FOX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:

(Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)

The network's description: "From Jerry Bruckheimer, executive producer of "CSI" and "Without a Trace," comes JUSTICE, an unflinching, behind-the-scenes look at the way high-profile cases are tried in the media age. JUSTICE features a dream team of four lawyers from disparate backgrounds who join forces to tackle the most controversial and newsworthy cases. With their unique skill sets and the power of forensic law, this formidable team becomes indispensable to the law firm of Turk, Nicholson, Tuller & Gaines. RON TURK (Victor Garber, "Alias," "Titanic") is the face seen on every media talk show in the country - and he wants it that way. He's great at landing a client, spinning a case and getting his way, but juries hate him. Standing behind Ron - as far away from the cameras as possible - is TOM NICHOLSON (Kerr Smith, "Charmed"), the heart of the firm. Tom is a brilliant litigator whose Everyman, earnest manner makes him Ron's alter ego. LUTHER GAINES (Eamonn Walker, "Oz"), famous in the African-American community, is well-connected, politically motivated and in possession of an uncanny ability to take a step back and assess the merits of a case from both the prosecution's and the defense's perspectives. ALDEN TULLER (Rebecca Mader, "The Devil Wears Prada") is a young, ambitious and brilliant clinician who approaches each case analytically, uncovering ways to destroy expert witnesses on cross-examination."

What did they leave out: It's exactly what you'd expect - a solid, well-paced legal procedural.

The plot in a nutshell: The murder of a Malibu housewife (she's found face down in her pool, apparently beaten to death) has drawn national attention, most notably the Nancy Grace-esque series "American Crime" (hosted by "Love Monkey's" Katherine La Nasa). Said program, which serves as a framing device for the plot, tells us the prime suspect is her husband, real estate developer Kevin O'Neil (Sam Trammell). And more importantly, he's retained the services of Turk, Nicholson, Tuller & Gaines (or TNT&G), a high-prolife law firm best known for its larger-than-life founder Ron Turk (Victor Garber, in full smirk mode). From here we meet the rest of Turk's team: there's Tom Nicholson (Kerr Smith), his big-hearted first chair; Alden Tuller (Rebecca Mader), his witness expert; and Luther Gaines (Eamonn Walker), his "connected" guy. We also learn their defense strategy - they say Kevin's wife simply slipped and fell, which technically accounts for her various injuries. The prosecution however says Kevin murdered his wife in a jealous rage (she had only recently confessed to having an affair), using one of his conveniently missing golf clubs. You can more or less fill in the procedural gaps from here as the case see-saws between the prosecution and the defense with the former being painted as the bad guys (with their manufactured evidence and sloppy policework) and the latter as the good guys (with their high-tech crime scene toys, mock juries and diligent research). And because this is a procedural, we're given little to latch onto about the characters other than their personality types (Turk being the showman and Nicholson being the bleeding heart stand out the most). Finally, once the verdict is delivered we flash back to the actual crime (a la FOX's own short-lived "The Jury") to see if Kevin really did it.

What works: As I mentioned previously, this is essentially another cog in the Bruckheimer procedural machine. If you dig that type of show, you'll definitely be right at home here. I'm certainly a "take or leave it" kind of guy when it comes to these kinds of shows - it doesn't feel like a waste to watch it, but there's also no real incentive to seek it out.

What doesn't: When a show essentially elicits a "shrug" type of reaction from me it's hard to pick apart. It's really just a vanilla show - you know what you're going to get, you don't really feel bad about watching it but you can't help but hope for something with a little more flavor. And with the pedigree of actors like Garber and Walker you'd think it would be a more colorful, engaging show. Sadly that's not the case.

The challenges ahead: Can "Justice" survive the always rocky pre-"Idol" FOX fall?

  [june 2006]  


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