Universal // 2005 // 540 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 24th, 2006
Eagerly awaiting Law & Order: Judge This!, Law & Order: The Reckoning, Law & Order: Is That a Fact?, Law & Order: Ballistic, Law & Order: Criminals Suck. Law & Order: So You Think You Can Dance?, Law & Order: Adventures in Perjury, Law & Order: SUV, and Law & Order: With Lime.
NBC sure milked this franchise. But all of the offshoots can't be wildly successful, and this version couldn't quite convince the jury to keep it around the airwaves. Thing is, it's not bad at all.
Back in 2005, Dick Wolf launched yet another spin-off from his mega-popular crime procedural series Law & Order. Perhaps "Law & Order-ed" out, the series failed to rocket up the ratings, and met its demise after about a dozen episodes. The show took a slightly different approach to the proven L&O formula, by largely dispensing with the investigative work and plunging full into the intricacies of the trial.
Episodes focused on the work by Assistant District Attorneys Tracey Kibre (Bebe Neuwirth, Cheers) and Kelly Gaffney (Amy Carlson) to lock up the perp-of-the-week. Aiding them in their case-building is D.A. investigators Hector Salazar (Kirk Acevedo) and newly retired Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach, who passed away from prostate cancer, two episodes in). Briscoe would later be replaced by Detective Chris Ravell (Scott Cohen). Overseeing the troops is D.A. Arthur Branch (Fred Thompson, every single Law & Order incarnation ever).
Universal has packaged 14 episodes, including a bonus Law & Order: Special Victims Unit crossover show and an unaired installment, onto three discs of jurisprudential fury:
* "The Abominable Showman"
* "Forty-One Shots"
* "Truth or Consequences"
* "Baby Boom"
* "Pattern of Conduct"
* "Bang and Blame"
* "The Line"
* "Blue Wall"
* "NIGHT" (Law and Order: SVU)
* "Bows Will be Boys"
* "Eros in the Upper Eighties"
I'm not a follower of the Law & Order franchise. I used to scarf a few episodes here and there when it was kicking around as reruns on A&E, but I never penciled it into my prime time viewing regimen. And in the interest of full-disclosure, I think it's because I don't really take to procedurals much. For Law & Order, I can appreciate its well-done execution, but the lack of characterization never appealed to me. For the most part, Trial By Jury keeps that formula intact: less focus on the characters, more on their cases.
That being said, as a courtroom procedural, Trial By Jury is well-done. The stories pack enough narrative punch, and boast enough twists to instill energy into a tired TV genre. Also, the writers were able to mix it up enough so there was real suspense in the verdict reveals, though this usual go-to moment of drawn-out white-knuckle TV -- "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?" (cue swelling music) -- doesn't necessarily represent the dramatic emphasis of the show. Instead of having all the prior actions by the D.A. and the investigators build to this final moment, Trial By Jury generates its oomph by framing the entire picture of the process. We see the prosecutors forge their case, the defense attorneys draw up their game-plan, the detectives doing their thing, the judges conferring with other judges in their off-time, and, once in as while, the jury deliberate. The goal is to put forth a complete treatment of the process, and the fun arrives when the lawyers must deal with surprises and impasses and insane clients and each-other in the back-and-forth art of plea bargaining.
It took me a while to warm up to Neuwirth, but I ended up really digging her; Tracey Kibre is a tough nut (reminding me a little of Lara Flynn Boyle's lethal D.A. from The Practice), and her understated, bulldog approach to prosecuting was attractive. In fact, the entire cast worked. Neuwirth and Carlson made a good team, and the latter episodes began to explore some bubbling conflicts between their ideologies, revealing just a smidgen of character development. There's just something about a couple of hard-ass babes outmaneuvering hapless bad guys in the courtroom that is appealing. (Don't get me started on Carlson's piercing blue eyes -- to borrow a phrase from Uncle Jesse, "Have mercy!") Acevedo and, later, Cohen did their cop things well enough, though Cohen managed to inject a bit more quirk into his character.
Episodes ranged from so-so to very good. A few of my favorites: "Bang and Blame" involved a whiny little shooter who managed to be both pathetic and sinister; "The Line" revealed a truly menacing bad guy; and "Boys Will Be Boys" delved into the always-provocative subject of transvestite murder and ruthless Dominican fatherhood (best line of the series, spoken by Salazar: "Speaking of chicks with balls..."). These episodes were exceptional variations on the procedural formula. The much-ballyhooed SVU crossover episode was okay, though the main attraction was more the guest star list (Alfred Molina, Bradley Cooper, and Angela Lansbury) and less the story.
Despite my positive feelings for the content, I still wouldn't recommend this series to folks who aren't keen on the Law & Order mojo. There are some twists and innovations sprinkled throughout, but it's still very much a Law & Order show. If you're not really into procedurals, Trial By Jury, while solid television top to bottom, may not float your boat -- at least to the tune of 40-odd bucks.
The shows are presented in their original broadcast full frame aspect ratio. Video quality is decent and the colors are strong, but it doesn't look that much better than tube quality. The 5.1 surround is a nice addition, though, despite its relative inactiveness. But what do you expect from a courtroom drama? Some deleted scenes and a six-minute promo featurette (the highlight of which is the eulogy the cast gives Orbach) accompany the bonus SVU crossover episode for extras.
Trial By Jury is a good show and I would recommend it to any fan of courtroom drama, especially Dick Wolf productions. If the Law & Order playbook is your thing, you won't be disappointed.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 540 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "A Different Look at Law and Order"
* Deleted Scenes
* Bonus Crossover Episode