Summer is a time for beach parties, family picnics, vacations and other activities most Americans have the luxury of participating in. But there are those who slip through the cracks of normal society and have nothing better to do than to tune out the buzz of summer and tune into television. Yes, there is probably no bigger waste of time, yes, it breeds sloth, obesity, fetid brain cells – but it’s also a good way to forget your troubles and get a leg up on loneliness.
It’s a great time, if you have nothing better to do, to catch up on reruns of shows you either weren’t interested in the first time around or didn’t have time to watch. I, being a great avoider of life and abuser of free time, have some old/new shows to catch.
I have to admit up front a bias for crime shows. They are the only ones that make me forget my troubles and immerse myself in utter distraction. I’ve never been a sitcom lover – no, not even “Friends” held my interest. “Reality TV” jumped the shark for me when Trista and Ryan got married. “The West Wing,” still the only good political series to air, jumped the shark when it became clear that the politics of real life (the Bush administration) rendered irrelevant the artful interpretation of what life should be like. “ER” was never the same after Anthony Edwards’ character died of a brain tumor. But cop shows, crime drama never lets you down – and this has proven true since television began.
When you get down to it, there are two franchises that dominate the genre – the “Law and Order” group and the “CSI” group. With the exception of “Criminal Intent,” all of the “Law and Order” shows are highly rated and good enough to make you feel somewhat vindicated for being a lazy bum – at least you’re learning about the legal system, right? “Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit” is the most sensational of the group since it involves sex crimes – the dregs of society either getting caught or getting away with it – but the two vigilante cops, Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler (Christopher Meloni) step outside the system enough to make you feel that even if the justice system is letting you down, justice is being done.
There is one “Law and Order” that appears to be slipping through the cracks and has been canceled as of an announcement last month – “Trial by Jury,” and here is a show most of you should spend your summer catching up on (provided you don’t have anything better to do with your time, which you should, you know, you really should). “Trial by Jury” is, to this obsessed viewer’s mind, the best of the whole franchise. But it does require you to think along with it, which could present a problem for many Americans and could be the reason it has been canceled – why think when the most popular shows these days are more mindless than ever?
“Trial by Jury” starts with an accused person and follows the prosecutors, the defense and the evidence as it is presented. It also looks at things like biased judges, juries that are driven by emotion, the dirty tricks lawyers on both sides play. It also walks a fine line in dealing with issues of race, for instance. One episode had a black criminal exploiting a system known for being racist against blacks – in his case, he was guilty and we go in knowing he’s guilty. So, to a degree, “Trial by Jury” is all of the “Law and Order” shows combined into one. What makes it more interesting than the others are the actors.
Leading the cast is the strangely versatile Bebe Neuwirth. I’d like to know if there’s anything this woman can’t do. She can glide effortlessly between musicals, comedy and drama. As the head prosecutor ADA Tracy Kibre, she is competitive, sometimes petty, sometimes unfeeling and sometimes too emotional – but always keeps us interested. She is joined by Amy Carlson who holds her own and represents the more honest of the two. Various “Law & Order” faces from other shows pop up now and again – like the “SVU” crew, and Candace Begin is one of the judges.
It is a crying shame that “Trial by Jury” took a dive, not only because it will leave a gaping hole in my otherwise empty life and force me to go outside and meet the public, but because it is television at its very best. Perhaps these summer months will give audiences a second shot at the show, now that they’ve seen every other “Law & Order” series except this one. If enough people catch on to the show, NBC might bring it back. Stranger things have happened.
Notable TV This Week
Thursday, July 7
Big Brother 6 premiere, 8 p.m., CBS.
Reign of Fire (**), Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey, 8 p.m., ABC.
Stardust Memories (****), one of Woody Allen’s best, 8 p.m., IFC.
Soundstage: John Mayer With Special Guest Buddy Guy, 10 p.m., KCET.
Friday, July 8
Into the West, the riveting western continues, 7:30 p.m., TNT.
Miller’s Crossing (****), 7:30 p.m., FMC.
Scarface (****), “say hello to my little friend!” 7:30 p.m., TCM.
Rock Star (**), with Jennifer Aniston, 8 p.m., UPN.
Saturday, July 9
Entrapment (**), 7:30 p.m., TNT.
The Emperor’s New Groove (***), 8 p.m., ABC.
Mystery! Touching Evil III, 8 p.m., KCET.
Splendor in the Grass (****), Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood, 8:15 p.m., TCM.
Sunday, July 10
Prime Suspect 2 (****), 8 p.m., BBCAM.
You Only Live Twice (***), 8 p.m., SPIKE-TV.
Open House (***), with Christine Lahti, 9 p.m., CBS.
Mystery! Inspector Lynley: A Cry for Justice, 9 p.m., KCET.
Monday, July 11
Biography: Lesley Ann Warren: A Cinderella Story, 9 p.m., BIO.
The Closer, 9 p.m., TNT.
History Detectives: Black Star Line Certificates; Mickey Mouse’s Origin; Pro-Nazi Newspaper in Texas, 9 p.m., KCET.
Meet the Parents (****), 9 p.m., ABC.
Tuesday, July 12
Wide Angle: Beslan: Siege of School No. 1, 9 p.m., KCET.
Witness (****), 8 p.m., AMC.
Empire, 10 p.m., ABC.
Inside Saddam’s Iraq, 10 p.m., KCET.
Wednesday, July 13
War and Peace (***), 7:30 p.m., FMC.
Brat Camp, troubled teens are this week’s flavor of the month for reality programming, 8 p.m., ABC.
The Sum of Us (***), with Russell Crowe, 8 p.m., IFC.
American Masters: George Stevens, 8 p.m., KCET.