Equal Justice wants to be a down and dirty version of L.A. Law, faster and grubbier and more realistic. In this two-hour pilot episode, it succeeds about half the time.
The series is about a bunch of fledgling lawyers working in a district attorney's office. The pilot was shot in Pittsburgh; director Thomas Carter and the terrific production designer Mel Bourne wanted to avoid the sunny slickness of Law, so they filmed lots of steel-town shabbiness and kept the courtroom scenes lit low. The whole show seems to be taking place at about 5:30 p.m., near sundown even the courtroom walls look tired.
Carter contrasts the drab scenery with bright young things and appealing middle-agers. Barry Miller (Biloxi Blues) does his patented snotty-kid act decked out in bow ties and sucking on a pipe; Debrah Farentino is permitted to seem smarter than she ever was pining after John Ritter in Hooperman.
For sex appeal, there's James Wilder as a cool hotshot; if Equal Justice takes off, you can bet that Wilder, with his hooded eyes, his Elvis hair, and his are-they-collagen-or-are-they-real? lips, is going to be the show's teen idol: James Wild-Thing. Even better is Sarah Jessica Parker and her incredibly thick hair. Frankly, I'd watch a weekly series that was solely about Parker and her hair.
The show has a big cast which also includes Jane Kaczmarek, Cotter Smith, and Joe Morton, who does the evening's best acting in front of a mirror, rehearsing his summation speech for a tough trial. And the trials? They're all tough, of course: Murders, rapes, drug-dealing, all the stuff we've seen on too many lawyer-cop-crime shows.
But the cliche trial scenes are well written, taking a few twists you might not expect. Equal Justice, the pilot, is pretty good. But if it doesn't come up with solid scripts and maintain its production values when it becomes a weekly hour next Wednesday, it'll get pretty bad pretty fast. B