Alibi V.17 No.35 • Aug 28-Sept 3, 2008 

Idiot Box

More Legal Briefs

“Raising the Bar” on TNT

Writer/producer Steven Bochco knows him some cops (“Hills Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue,” “Cop Rock”). He knows him some lawyers (“L.A. Law,” “Murder One,” “Civil Wars”). Apparently, he also knows him some “Simpsons.” How else to explain his casting of Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”) as a flinty, tough-talking female judge in the new courtroom drama “Raising the Bar”? Kaczmarek has voiced Judge Harm, a flinty, tough-talking adjudicator on Fox’s animated sitcom, since 2001.

In “Raising the Bar,” Kaczmarek plays Trudy Kessler, a nutty but tyrannical judge hoping to make a run as the next Manhattan district attorney. Though most of the action takes place in Kessler’s courtroom, the focus is on a cross-section of sexy (of course), young (naturally) public defenders and prosecutors. You see, during the day, these folks have an adversarial relationship, sparring against one another in court. But at night, they’re pals who hang out, party and occasionally have sex with one another.

On the PD side, we’ve got Jerry (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, “Saved by the Bell”), the idealistic, shaggy-haired young Turk. Rosalind (Gloria Reuben, “ER”) is his passionate and protective boss. Richard (Teddy Sears, “Ugly Betty”) is the rich preppie who foregoes a cushy job at his dad’s law firm to go pro bono. Bobbi (Natalia Cigliuti, “All My Children”) is the new kid on the block looking to prove herself.

On the other side of the aisle, we’ve got manipulative, sleazebag Assistant DA Nick (Currie Graham, “Boston Legal”). Working under him are Michelle (Melissa Sagemiller, “Sleeper Cell”), the tough blonde prosecutor balancing her need to win cases with her desire to see justice done, and Marcus (J. August Richards, “Conviction”), the relentless criminal crusher.

OK, so the show is staffed with your usual collection of stereotypes: merciless judges, idealistic public defenders, ruthless prosecutors. But the bonus here is they’re all sleeping with one another. In other words: You got “Melrose Place” in my “Law & Order”! Oh yeah, well you got “Law & Order” in my “Melrose Place”!

The cases are your typical weekly mixture of twisty rapes, murders, etc.—all designed to show off Bochco and his writers’ knowledge of obscure legal legerdemain. The show does a fair job of splitting its courtroom drama between prosecution and defense. If you’re a junkie of legal eagle action, this show has got its fair share.

Still, the court cases take a backseat to naughty dialogue (ADA Nick compares Michelle’s cleavage to “two perfect, swollen mounds of creamy white yogurt, each topped with a pert, succulent raisin”) and racy storylines (Judge Kessler is sleeping with her clerk, despite the fact that he’s very young and extremely gay). Hard-nosed, raisin-nippled Sagemiller is probably the standout castmember, but her chemistry with bedmate Gosselaar is tepid, largely because Gosselaar lets his John Corbett-inspired hair do the acting for him.

Sex and lawyers are two great tastes that taste great together. (Don’t believe me: Ask the makers of All Rise: Hung Jury 2.) Bochco and staff have got to inflate their cast of characters into a full three dimensions, though, before anyone on this show is worth caring about on a weekly basis.

“Raising the Bar” debuts Monday, Sept. 1, at 8 p.m. on TNT.