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TV Reviews: Whiplash pace, legalese put disorder in 'Court'

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Wait until the people who complain about the fast pace of "The West Wing" try to watch ABC's "The Court" (10 tonight). Heads may explode.

As it veers from the story of newest Supreme Court justice Kate Nolan (Sally Field) to the exploits of TV news reporter Harland Brandt (Craig Bierko), who covers her nomination, "The Court" is a dizzying, confusing ride.

 
 
"The Court"

WHEN: 10 tonight on ABC.

STARRING: Sally Field, Craig Bierko.

   
 

Is the justice played by Diahann Carroll liberal or conservative? Hard to tell at first. "The Court" has what seems like a cast of thousands, and the story zips from one venue to the next so quickly, whiplash is a legitimate concern. Furthermore, legal jargon is tossed about and not explained well enough, particularly in the second episode.

At least "The Court" is better than CBS's similarly structured "First Monday," an abysmal Supreme Court drama that premiered in January. There's more political intrigue in "The Court," and, in the first episode, the justice's young clerks don't upstage the experienced jurists.

Though Field has the ostensible lead role, this is no "Gidget Goes to Washington." If anything, she and Bierko are co-leads as "The Court" gives equal weight to his pursuit of Supreme Court news stories. But it's an awkward dynamic that doesn't work. The two worlds are far too separate to intertwine naturally, especially given the secretive, cloistered nature of Supreme Court justices.

Field's Nolan, a former governor of Ohio, is the court's swing vote, described in ABC's press notes as "a pragmatic politician" who proclaims no agenda, spouting the mantra, "It's one vote at a time." The other justices seem to view her as a moderate liberal, though in next week's episode she lives up to ABC's billing.

She's a far more interesting and easy-to-like character than Bierko's Brandt, who seems to have a bad attitude about everything.

With a little work and a lot more of Field (and a lot less of Bierko), "The Court" could evolve into an interesting drama. But the show won't have long to mature: ABC ordered only six episodes.

'George Lopez'

Now that ABC has decided to get back into family programming in a big way, "George Lopez" (8:30 p.m. tomorrow) is probably the type of show we can expect to see more often from the Mickey Mouse club. It also hearkens back to the network's blue-collar roots in the family comedy vein of, say, "Roseanne."

But where that show broke ground with its characters and topical storytelling, "Lopez" takes no steps forward, save for the casting of a Hispanic comic and other Latino actors in lead roles.

 
 
"George Lopez"

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. tomorrow on ABC.

STARRING: George Lopez, Constance Marie.

   
 

Even that's not groundbreaking; it's been 18 years since ABC premiered Paul Rodriguez in Norman Lear's "A.K.A. Pablo." Though there have been too few advances in television for minorities in that time, fulfilling only a politically correct mandate for change doesn't necessarily make good TV.

"George Lopez" is mostly innocuous. It centers on George's life at home with his wife (Constance Marie, "Union Square") and two kids, and at work, where he's just been promoted to manager at an airplane parts factory.

At home, he teaches a lesson about lying to teen-age daughter Carmen (Masiela Lusha), who's dealing with a hygiene problem she's embarrassed about.

"You've got jungle pits!" Dad exclaims when she says she needs to start shaving under her arms.

Tasteless.

At work, George is still learning to be a manager. The complication bridging these settings is his domineering mother, Benny (Belita Moreno). She works at the factory and frequently visits George's home, where she primarily succeeds in scaring his young son.

Benny could give "George Lopez" a hint of distinction, but she's too small a part of tonight's premiere. When she does appear, her dialogue is more crass than funny.

"You're always like this," she complains. "You always want to be the good guy. Why don't you grow a pair?"

Nice mouth, Mom.

Still, there's something intriguing there, something worth exploring in that mother-grown-son relationship. We'll see if "George Lopez" can get past attempts to wring laughs from shock humor to deal with it.


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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