Saturday, September 21, 2019

TV REVIEW: CBS' 'All Rise'

CBS will premiere its new original drama series All Rise on Monday, September 23 at 9/8c. following the premieres of The Neighborhood and Bob Hearts Abishola. The drama stars Simone Missick, Wilson Bethel, Jessica Camacho, J. Alex Brinson, Lindsay Mendez, Ruthie Ann Miles and Marg Helgenberger.

Read on for my thoughts on the new legal drama after screening its first four episodes.

Ever since its debut in 2005, the broadcast networks have been trying to replicate the success of ABC's Grey's Anatomy. It seemed impossible for anyone to pull off though outside of the Shonda Rhimes universe. But still, the various knockoffs had their varying degrees of success to them. None of them quite hit the right formula in order to be a lasting success in their own right. However, some still did respectable for themselves. All of this is a rather long way of saying that CBS' new legal procedure All Rise is clearly going for the same vein as Grey's Anatomy. It aspires to peel back the layers of a genre that has been well done in the medium at this point in time. It tells its stories with a certain light touch but is fully capable of being dramatic and emotional when the situation requires it to be. Plus, it has a winning cast that can make anything seem charming with the amount of effort they pour into the proceedings. Of course, it still seems improbable that this show will be a breakout success. It has grown increasingly more difficult to decipher what will and won't work on the broadcast networks. The increased competition elsewhere can make their reliable programming a safe comfort for some. And yet, the networks are trying to be a bit more ambitious with their programming this year. That is inspiring even if they are still operating with some proven formulas that have worked for them in the past. It was only a couple of months ago that The Code flamed out spectacularly on CBS. All Rise could easily follow the same fate. That's not for me to decide as a critic. Instead, it's my responsibility to inform the reader about the quality of the show in order to help you determine whether it's something that piques your interest. All Rise is not bad. It has the makings of a show that could really develop into something. It just isn't there yet even though CBS did a wonderful job in making multiple episodes available to critics in advance.

All Rise depicts the day-to-day aspects of what goes on in the Los Angeles county courthouse. The main characters embody all of the players who come to define what justice looks like for the people caught up in the system. Leading the charge is Simone Missick's Lola Carmichael who has just been appointed as a judge at the start of the series. The premiere delves into her first day on the job and her ambition to make a difference because no one else on the bench looks like her. The show wears that ambition and aspiration on its sleeves at all times. It wants the audience to feel good about the work that Lola is doing even though the responsibility of this job can be daunting from time to time. She has colleagues to help with that burden though - namely Wilson Bethel's Mark Callan who served as a prosecutor with Lola. Now, the show doesn't go the conventional route of making Lola and Mark a will-they?/won't-they? lead pairing. Instead, it's all about the platonic friendship and admiration that exists between them. That is refreshing even though it also means that Mark isn't actually arguing any cases in Lola's courtroom. It takes until the fourth episode for the show to actually acknowledge that fact. They are so close that it may bias her against anyone he happens to be facing off against in any particular case. That wouldn't be good because she is on a crusade for justice in every case that crosses her desk. That means she shows a willingness to go to trial even though her judicial secretary Sherri (Ruthie Ann Miles) warns her against such actions because it creates a backlog of cases. But it mostly provides the show with its narrative spine in each episode. Every week Lola presides over a case and hopes she's doing the right thing. Spoiler alert: she mostly does. It does start to get rather repetitive though. It has yet to truly shake up its solid formula in a significant way.

All of this also means that there are some supporting characters in this ensemble who essentially get lost. Throughout four episodes, I couldn't tell you why CSI alum Marg Helgenberger was starring in this show. She plays Judge Lisa Benner, who presents as the only ally Lola may have amongst the judges. She comes across as the wise judge who can offer sage advice at any moment. But she doesn't have much of a personality. Nor is she allowed to get into any of the proceedings herself. Instead, Mark is always in someone else's courtroom presenting his weekly case. Helgenberger may be a part of the ensemble simply to provide legitimacy to the project for the loyal CBS audience. They are more likely to tune in knowing that Helgenberger is a known quantity who can be relied upon for entertainment. Again, that didn't quite work out for The Code which had Dana Delany in a similar position. Meanwhile, the prosecutors, public defenders, bailiffs and court reporters who also fill up this world are largely kept to their broad character strokes in these opening episodes. It should be commended that the show continually addresses issues of race because the defendants appearing in these cases are so often people of color. That further incentivizes Lola to do the right thing. It also runs the risk of that being the only thing to define some of the other characters in this world. It shouldn't be though. The elements are all present to make this a fun guilty pleasure type show. It may not reveal anything new about the judicial system though. If you're prone to this specific genre, then you've probably seen stories like this before. But again, the execution may encourage enough of an audience to stick around because the cast is very charming in these roles.