Judge David M. Gutierrez is still waiting for his own Law and Order series—Law & Order: Spin-off Victims Unit.
What, no "chung-chung?"
Just when you thought the Law & Order franchise was fully mined, something else pops out of Dick Wolf's head. Is Conviction: The Complete Series a breath of fresh air or is it the last gasp of a dying television empire?
Facts of the Case
As the fourth spin-off of Dick Wolf's Law & Order monolith, Conviction: The Complete Series breaks from its tried-and-true cops-and-lawyers formula to concentrate on the legal eagles of the New York District Attorney's Office. Similar to the equally brief (no legal pun intended) Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Conviction has altogether jettisoned New York's Finest in order to concentrate on both the professional and personal lives of its young cast. Led by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit alumni Alex Cabot (Stephanie March, Head of State), the DA's office full of hip esquires wrestles with rookie mistakes, introductions to office and state politics, soured love lives, and the dos of don'ts of legal etiquette
What is most noticeable about Conviction: The Complete Series is how much it has removed itself from the Law & Order world. If not for carryover character ADA Alex Cabot, one would never know the show's roots. The show has a different shooting style and pacing, and even ventures into the personal lives of its characters, a trait purposely neglected by the other Dick Wolf shows. Even Law & Order: Special Victims Unit does not venture as deeply into these areas.
Conviction, on its own, is sharply written legal drama; unfortunately, there is little to distinguish it from the wealth of other legal dramas past and present. Since it only ran 13 episodes, the very reason for watching for the series—its characters—works against it. From the pilot on, the rushed pacing of the series and storylines allows for little growth and few opportunities for viewer attachment.
Like most series, we're given a "rookie" character with whom the viewer is supposed to identify. In this case, it's the brash Nick Potter (Jordan Bridges, Dawson's Creek). Instantly, we're whisked along with Potter into his occupational whirlwind. The problem is we've seen it all before. In fact, all the characters are people we've seen before. Unfeeling manager/leader/head lawyer who must remain distant much to the chagrin of his/her subordinates? Check. Win-at-all-costs lawyer who's actually a coward? Check. Naïve waif who struggles to prove herself? Check. Sexpot who comes on strong because she's really quite delicate inside? Check. Luckily, this doesn't hurt the series, but it still is one of its weaker points.
The show excels in its stories. Each episode's case draws in the viewer and keeps with the "ripped from the headlines" L&O tradition. The show balances private lives and legal lives extremely well, especially when they intersect. Most often, the cast's personal interactions bleed into their cases, making for some interesting dramatic turns. This works specifically well with the badly-named Jim Steele (Anson Mount, Third Watch) and his liaisons with two other female members of the office. The series' storylines begin an odd turn toward the sensational as the series nears its end. Not to give anything away, but the final two-parter involves a hostage situation and feels like a series send-off. It may have been the result of a final bid to win new viewers. Still, the mostly self-contained stories are solid legal drama fare that serves the cast well.
Conviction: The Complete Series spreads its 13 episodes over three discs. The sole special feature included on this set is a series of character profiles of the main characters.
The picture quality is fantastic, showing off the show's great soft, muted look, I'm glad Universal treated the show with care. The sound was adequate. I didn't notice any problems—always a good sign.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're looking to add Conviction: The Complete Series because it's part of the L&O universe, think again. If it's Dick Wolf formula you want, you won't find it here. Instead of being a sister show to the rest, it's more like a distant cousin—a fourth or fifth cousin through marriage a few times removed.
Conviction: The Complete Series is worth checking out. Since it's better than most legal fare, fans of soap opera elements mixed with legal wrangling will enjoy this series.
Conviction: The Complete Series is hereby cleared of all charges and free to go wherever failed legal dramas go.
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