By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Sidney Lumet’s first film, 12 Angry Men, was also an adaptation of a teleplay; Lumet began in television, in fact, where he worked on various anthologies TV Land will never rerun, before going on to make Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Verdict and, of course, Network, in which he bit the hand that used to feed him. All is forgiven now, apparently, and 40 years after he last worked in the medium he’s come back — following a generally undistinguished decade in film — as executive producer and creator of 100 Centre Street, a kind of Night Courtwithout the jokes, and the first original dramatic series from the Arts & Entertainment Network. (I would guess the success A&E has had with reruns of Law & Order, which this season has Lumet peer Arthur Penn as an executive producer, has something to do with this.) One wants it to be good, because Lumet is, notwithstanding The Wizand A Stranger Among Us, a major American director, and because Alan Arkin is in it — Alan Arkin, whom you have loved since you first saw The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming— as a controversy-plagued liberal judge. And also because one just roots for the old guys — Lumet turns 77 this year — especially as one looks down one’s own lonesome road toward what for some reason is called the Golden Years. But it’s a disappointment.
You can’t say it isn’t earnest, or serious about exploring what Lumet calls “the separation of law and justice.” Here and there an interesting idea gets kicked around, a novel situation is advanced — a Vietnamese man holds a courtroom hostage to try the soldiers who massacred his village, a prosecutor and a public defender come to opposite views of their case — but the series falls victim again and again to corniness and implausibility and simple bad writing. At times, when the court is just doing quick business, the show feels believable enough — it’s shot three-camera, live-TV-style on 24-frame high-density video, with impressively filmic results — but then assistant D.A.s start smooching in the office, or lawyers and judges fraternize unprofessionally, or someone says something like “What about the lady with the blindfold, sword and scales?” and the klaxons and red lights just go off in my head. The show is full of little speeches, monologues that go on too long and have the tang of acting exercises, and are often further compromised by sappy underscoring. Lumet has written five episodes himself, and directed as many, but they are not particularly distinguishable from the ones he didn’t. Still, there’s Alan Arkin — though not nearly enough of him — informing every instant he’s onscreen with his innate menschiness, keeping it grounded, making it real. If the rest of the show can catch up with him, I’ll be back.
TRAFFIK | At the Museum of Television & Radio, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 786-1000 | Screening in two parts through April 27; shown in its entirety April 28-29
100 CENTRE STREET | A&E | Mondays, 9 p.m.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city