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CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Simone Missick (right) in All Rise
CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Television

Battle at the bench

Romantic entanglements and a kooky trial weigh down All Rise

It seems there are nearly as many TV shows about lawyers as there are lawyers. Few represent the craft honestly. (I’m talking about the TV shows.) The pilot of the new CBS legal drama All Rise doesn’t make a strong case for watching additional episodes. Romantic entanglements and a kooky trial clutter a promising premise. What All Rise needs is order in the courtroom. Better yet: Law & Order in the courtroom.

Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) is an African American woman and Los Angeles County’s newest Superior Court judge. From the bench, the former district attorney better sees the disadvantages that minorities experience in the legal system. In a position that women of color rarely hold, Lola faces extra scrutiny herself.

In one of the pilot’s two court cases, Daphne, a Latina five months pregnant, is charged with a serious crime. She insists she’s innocent, but a decorated white police officer produces apparently damning evidence. During a break in the trial, the chief of police pressures Lola.

“I need to make a difference,” Lola later confides to a friend, “but I can’t tell if this is a battle or if this is the war.” Timely and interesting? Lola’s story is.

The rest of the pilot, however, stands guilty of lowbrow shenanigans. Someone asks if Lola is sleeping with a colleague. The public defender gets a restraining order against her ex-husband, but she and the bailiff hit it off. The court reporter has a crush on a DA—who’s dating a model.

A second court case presumably testifies to the show’s lighter side. I found it campy and unrealistic, more akin to Night Court than a Law & Order contender.

The pilot (not yet rated but likely TV-14) ends on a positive note. Daphne has doubts about parenting, but Lola reassures her: “You have … that loving superpower that only moms like you get.”

Lola won that battle, but it’ll take more for All Rise to win the war.

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Sonja Flemming/CBS © 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Patricia Heaton as Carol Kenney (center) in Carol’s Second Act
Sonja Flemming/CBS © 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Television

On the laugh track

Three broadcast sitcoms this fall range from preachy to sweet

These days, streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, as well as premium cable channels like HBO, are dominating watercooler conversations and sweeping up awards shows. The reign of broadcast seems well past—at least when it comes to dramas or documentaries. But sitcoms are one genre the younger outlets haven’t taken over yet. When Americans want to laugh, they still typically turn to one of the Big Four networks. Here’s a rundown of three new offerings from CBS and ABC.

Carol’s Second Act

Perhaps no actor or actress on television right now has a stronger track record than Patricia Heaton. After playing Ray Romano’s long-suffering wife in Everybody Loves Raymond for nine years and the perpetually frazzled, blue-collar mom Frankie Heck in The Middle for another nine, Heaton is always a good bet for ratings. The question is, will audiences give her a second (or really a third) act in a show that doesn’t trade as much on the travails of motherhood?

It’s an iffy call. It’s not unusual for sitcoms to require a few episodes to find their feet, and it’s worth recalling that Seinfeld’s first outing wasn’t all that funny. The pilot for Carol’s Second Act requires too much heavy lifting from Heaton, who plays a retired teacher embarking on a new career as a doctor. The rest of the much-younger cast fails to match her physical comedy and her way with a one-liner. But this could be the fault of directing. Given a few more episodes for the stars to gel, Heaton’s latest venture could come together in the end. (CBS; premieres Sept. 26)

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Comedy Dynamics

Jim Gaffigan
Comedy Dynamics

Television

Funny family man

Jim Gaffigan proves again he’s a master of the comedic craft

The man The Wall Street Journal dubbed the King of Clean Comedy is back with a new Amazon special, Quality Time. And fans will be glad to hear that while the material is all new, Jim Gaffigan hasn’t changed his tune. Much.

Along with being clean, the famously Catholic father of five adheres to an old-school definition of inclusiveness. That is, he makes the kind of self-deprecating jokes about his weight, his wife, and his laid-back parenting style you might have heard on Johnny Carson back in the day.  Only with a fresh spin.

What you won’t hear are the routines that have come to characterize modern late-night comedy. Nothing about race (unless jokes about his own extraordinary paleness count). Nothing about divisive current events. And certainly nothing about politics. 

When it comes to his career, Gaffigan seems to harken back to the old Michael Jordan observation that Republicans (or Democrats) buy sneakers too. Fans would be hard-pressed even to guess where he falls on the ideological spectrum, and Gaffigan likes it that way, telling the Daily Beast earlier this week, “I don’t want to grab some soap box on a certain issue if there might be nuances to it.” 

Even though GQ headlined a 2018 interview with a claim that the comedian didn’t vote for Trump, if you read carefully, he never really says that. Instead, he offers a hilarious description of his fellow New Yorkers accosting him on the street screaming, “You did this!” until he finally wonders, “Did I do it?” It’s a typical wily Gaffigan sidestep to the media’s perpetual drive to force every public figure to carry a party banner.

His approach seems to be working. In spades. This year he’s ranked No. 3 on Forbes’​ list of highest-earning comedians, just behind his friend Jerry Seinfeld.

However, while the fundamentals of his style are holding strong, that doesn’t mean his comedy hasn’t evolved over time. His last special, Noble Ape, dealt with a particularly tough blow his family suffered in 2017: his wife Jeannie’s brain tumor. With Jeannie’s help (she’s his writing partner), he developed a set that was surprisingly tender, hilarious, and yet classic Gaffigan.

Things seemed to have settled down in Gaffigan world, because if the new special feels a little less specific to experiences in his and Jeannie’s household, it’s also a little looser. It feels as if he’s gaining confidence that he can take the audience to weirder, less tried-and-true places, as with an extended sequence about horses. The more digressive and random the equine jokes become (and they become highly digressive and random indeed), the funnier they grow. It’s the mark of a master of the craft when the awkward and even nonsensical content feels intentional.

Despite the Wall Street Journal billing, Quality Time contains a bit of mildly bad language. As his previous shows did. Think the kind of thing you’d hear on any prime-time sitcom. And he calls out the name of Jesus once. But it’s while praying for rescue during a bear attack. So if we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt, it’s not a taking-the-Lord’s-name-in-vain situation. 

What fans will really notice is that Gaffigan seems to be getting comfortable moving further afield from the old “fat dad, lazy dad” bits he’s best known for. The new material might be a little racier than the old hot pocket bits, but it’s all within the context of married fatherhood. And that is what really makes this special, like his previous ones, special. It’s not that he doesn’t swear. As Gaffigan quipped to Stephen Colbert, nobody pays to hear someone not curse for an hour.  It’s because he finds the funny in those experiences—family, marriage, parenthood, and, yes, good old-fashioned American overeating—we still hold in common.

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