At times, it can feel as though there are as many courtroom dramas as there are courts. Each series goes to trial, making its case for what sets it apart from the hundreds of other legal dramas. “All Rise,” CBS’s newest effort, attempts to establish itself amongst the likes of shows from Shonda Rhimes or Aaron Sorkin. However, its endeavor in imitation misses Rhimes’ knack for storytelling and Sorkin’s wit and character.
“All Rise” follows new judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick, “Luke Cage”), and the various prosecutors, public defenders and court employees that surround her as their lives weave in and out of the injustices of a Los Angeles courthouse. Much of the episode follows the case of public defender Emily Lopez (Jessica Camacho, “The Flash”), which involves a young woman who may be wrongly arrested for burglary. However, when she first arrives to the courtroom, she’s pants-less due to the incompetence of the county jail. After a mildly racist breakdown by a bailiff, who then attempts to shoot the judge, the case comes before Carmichael, who intends to right the wrongs of a fatigued justice system.
To the show’s credit, its premise is established swiftly and effectively. Within the first five minutes, the basic themes are established. We find out that Los Angeles is riddled with crime, but Carmichael pities most criminals for their environment. There’s also the snappy, wise-cracking prosecutor, Mark Callan (Wilson Bethel, “Heart of Dixie”), whom Carmichael has history with as a lawyer and friend. Then, within the course of the thirty seconds it takes to walk through the metal detector and to the elevator, Callan rapidly details all of Carmichael’s likes and dislikes.
While the plot may move with equal parts speed and deftness, it fails to connect. Each character on “All Rise” is thoroughly conventional. We have the relaxed, wise judge, the quippy prosecutor, a sensitive public defender and even a charming bailiff trying to rise above his station. The show does deserve credit for its relatively diverse cast, attempting to accurately reflect Los Angeles’ colorful makeup. However, having a diverse cast is not a sufficient substitute for a lacking engaging characters.
It feels as though the show also neglects to actively engage its characters. For example, Luke (J. Alex Brinson, “Travelers”) the court officer shoots the insane, racist bailiff who shot at the judge from the above scene. This might make for a rich study in the toll the unfortunate aspects of law enforcement might have on a person. Instead, it’s used as a way to connect characters and move the plot, before being quickly forgotten. It’s as if the show attempts to efficiently cram plot points into the pilot, while the characters just become scenery, flatly rotating around the narrative.
While “All Rise” promises a focus on social justice — trying to fix the problems of an unjust court from within — it’s hard to say that it has made good on that promise. The focus of the pilot seemed to be the personal lives of these people, which so far is not very interesting. The moments in which justice is shown to be skewed are few, and they seem to be more dramatic than anything.
The pilot for “All Rise” is unimpressive, but that doesn’t mean the show is bad — at least not yet. There are roots here for a very smart and provoking show that tackles the delicate and frightening balance of our justice system. What’s more, it has the opportunity to explore and question the position of minorities on either side of the Judge’s bench. Yet, I’m scared the show will err too much to the side of melodrama, neglecting character study for an overstuffed plot. If “All Rise” can pull off being the show it seems to want to be, it’ll be amazing. But for now, it has a long way to go.