While legal dramas have always been popular, not very many have focused on the viewpoint of the judge. CBS broke new ground in 1999 with Judging Amy, which not only focused on the life of a judge, but one that was also a single mom. It provided insight on how a judge thinks and how one can be deeply torn over their cases without showing it while there is a gavel in their hand. Now twenty years later, CBS does it again with All Rise only this time the main character is also black.
While All Rise is similar in tone to Judging Amy, there are enough differences to make this new show stand on its own. Though the series heavily promotes Simone Missick as the show’s star, it really plays out as more of an ensemble show, which I prefer anyway. It also follows the trend of a multi-race cast and since the show is based in Los Angeles, this makes sense.
Inspired by Steve Bogira’s nonfiction book Courtroom 302, CBS describes the new drama series that “follows the chaotic, hopeful and sometimes absurd lives of its judges, prosecutors and public defenders, as they work with bailiffs, clerks and cops to get justice for the people of Los Angeles amidst a flawed legal process.”
The pilot episode of All Rise begins with newly appointed Judge Lola Carmichael (Missick) struggling to get comfortable in her new role. After serving as a prosecutor for years at the same Los Angeles County Superior Court, Carmichael continues to work with the same people as she did before, but in a different capacity. Those people include Deputy District Attorney Mark Callan (Wilson Bethel) who is also Carmichael’s best friend, Emily Lopez (Jessica Camacho) is a public defender who is going through a divorce and has a restraining order against her estranged husband and Deputy Sherrif Luke Watkins (J. Alex Brinson), a four-year bailiff who has plans to leave his job to complete his law degree. Former CSI star, Marg Helgenberger appears too little in the pilot episode as Judge Lisa Benner, a mentor to Carmichael.
Much like Amy Brenneman’s character in the former series, Lola is another new judge not wanting to do things as others expect of her but instead push boundaries as she sees fit. The first episode of the show begins with a bang (literally) when a police officer goes off the deep end while in the courtroom. This is all very exciting stuff, but it doesn’t really have much to do with the storylines that follow (although, you never know if this character might show up in future episodes). Two weeks later, Lola meets with Judge Benner and learns that Sherri Kansky (Ruthie Ann Miles), an experienced judge’s assistant, has been assigned to work with her. Lola is less than thrilled with this news since she and Sherri had a run in a while back. Sherri is tough and clearly thinks she would make for better judge, but she probably won’t ever say so. Though Sherri intimidates Lola, she isn’t about to bow down to her or her ways of doing things.
Lola’s first case is one involving a young Latina woman accused of burglary in what appears first as an open-and-shut case. With the woman denying that she had anything to do with the robbery, public defender Jessica is a little too eager to prove the young woman’s innocence. Meanwhile, Mark has his own bewildering case going up against a man who insists on acting as his own lawyer and finds some dirt on Mark’s past life.
This is a lot to take in for the first episode of the show and was probably necessary to sell the show to CBS, but it all feel pretty rushed and everything wraps up nicely in the end. The show also throws in a few moments of comedy relief including a bit where Sherri uses a series of sneezes as cues for Lola during the court case. These come off as silly, fall flat and serve as a negative contrast to the rest of the show.
Unlike some other modern TV show starring women, All Rise is refreshing in that it doesn’t have a chip on its shoulder. Lola doesn’t hate men nor does she have to prove herself as a capable woman. The ensemble cast show that they can actually work and encourage each other as adults regardless of gender. And unlike other series where every line spoken is sarcastic, this cast of characters come off as real people. (Well, for the most part they do. Camacho’s overplays her character’s nervousness.) I also appreciate that the show doesn’t feel preachy in its message nor does it feel like it needs to provide over-the-top storylines found in some many other dramas on TV these days. Okay, the show’s first scenes are a bit much, but overall, the show is a lot more grounded.
All Rise airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.