Bad Judge, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
October 2, 2014, 9:00 PM (EST), NBC
“You’re a judge, not a social worker!” admonishes Judge Rebecca Wright’s boss. For a show called Bad Judge that observation might come as a surprise. The “bad” part presumably refers to things such as her wild partying, exhibitionist sex on her desk, pregnancy scares, and hangovers. That’s an inherently judgmental (sorry) perspective in which to situate the show, but it does a good job of letting her adventures seem fun and flirty instead of requiring correction. The opening montage sets her up to be a slacker type which is sort of intriguing, but it tries to stuff so many other things into her character in such a short amount of time none of it actually humanizes her much. Kate Walsh is a very talented comedic performer, but she hasn’t been given a solid foundation to establish this show as a must-watch.
The bulk of the episode involves Rebecca helping a young middle schooler named Robbie stay out of trouble. She feels guilty because she was required to send his parents to prison due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. They share easy and enjoyable banter. Walsh’s nuanced performance in their scenes utilizes a slightly distant demeanor with a touch of warmth. She’s firm and fair, but a little difficult to take seriously. When he gets into trouble at school because he drew a dirty picture of his teacher, he brings her in to argue on his behalf. It feels forced but it shows the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to look out for this kid she feels responsible for. However, due to her terrible advice for Robbie to punch the kid who’s bullying him, she makes matters much worse for him when his caretakers threaten to send him to a group home meant for the most violent kids. The solution to that predicament is way too obvious– she gets her occasional hook up to use his court consulting psychiatrist position to write a letter ensuring Robbie is nonviolent. She’s doing all of this for the kid while her boss breathes down her neck to focus on her actual work.
There’s something compelling about the scenes in which she’s actually doing her job like a totally committed and competent grown up person. The main case she’s judging is about a bigamist. She follows the law and gives him a reasonable sentence, but she also forces him to take a feminism course while wearing an “I’m a convicted bigamist” t-shirt. There was a moment that I’m sure the writers will expand on in future episodes when we focus of Rebecca’s face during the testimony of the bigamist’s two wives. They appreciated that he was there for them. He was a dedicated husband, valuing the relationship they had with him for what it was. This struck a nerve in Rebecca for sure. Later, in order to impress her boss, she gives an impassioned keynote speech about why she upholds the law. It’s really difficult to buy this side of her character after we’ve watched her do a number of immature things, including pulling into a handicapped spot in her date-rapey van. Kate Walsh deserves all the credit for pulling it off because the writing has completely failed her so far.
There’s no conviction in any aspect of the show, and yet it seems like it’s trying very hard to be something substantial. The dialogue is basically just a bunch of shrugs strung together. The humor is silly but uninspired. It is still a show that feels like it’s being debated back and forth in a board room with people throwing out ideas and having them shot down. Or worse, dumbed down. The only way this show will survive is if it picks an interesting path of growth for Rebecca. Will she yearn for a relationship? Will she climb higher in her career? Will she be a role model to young Robbie? Will she simply go through the motions of being a grown up? Whatever direction the show goes in, it will be much smarter if it ditches the forced ensemble the last shot of the episode tries to sell and focus almost exclusively on Wright. Kate Walsh can do pretty much anything asked of her, so pushing in an edgier or darker direction could work. Unfortunately, as much as I love the idea of Kate Walsh nailing this role and elevating the toothless show around her, I doubt I or anyone else will remember it next week.
- “I feel like I just made out with Godzilla” after eating spicy salsa
- ”Really, you think I’m a grown up?” “If you’re asking me, then you really have problems.” This dialogue should’ve been thrown in the trash but it pretty much sums up the entire show.
- “All I need is a warm garage and a cold pizza”
- “I don’t have time to watch you pretend to be on the phone with patients.”
- Ryan Hansen from Party Down plays the exact same character with a more grown up job, which is almost a reason to watch the show in and of itself. Almost.
Kate Walsh is a very talented comedic performer, but she hasn’t been given a solid foundation to establish this show as a must-watch.