Two-hour movie introducing new series vehicle for comeback player of the year Larry Hagman and his well-functioning new liver is a disarmingly dark and loopy confection that shows us why the place they call Nawlins has Vegas hopelessly beat as the sleaze capital of the western world. Creator-executive producer John Sacret Young (“China Beach”) has infused “Orleans” with a tone that’s alternately disquieting and wholly absurd. It doesn’t always work, but it carries the artistic texture of a theatrical effort.
It’s obviously far more than just a character play molded to accommodate Hagman’s comeback. For example, when was the last time you saw a television series in primetime that charts a steamy love affair between first cousins? Or an accused murderer sprawled in a pool of blood in his jail cell after attempting suicide? I don’t think we’re watching “The Dukes of Hazzard” anymore, Toto. Hagman looks to be having a great time starring here as the Honorable Judge Luther Charbonnet, the patriarch of the most dysfunctional family Bayou country ever did see. He’s got something of an eccentric approach to his job, allowing strippers to disrobe and attorneys to place bets on their cases in his courtroom. But the judge is pretty even-keel compared with his kids. There is eldest son Clade (Brett Cullen), a New Orleans homicide detective with an odd taste for street-trash women. His younger brother, Jesse (Michael Reilly Burke), is an intense DA who likes to keep his sex life in the family (with cousin Rene, played by Lynette Walden). Then there is their sister Paulette (Colleen Flynn), manager of a riverboat casino and an odd duck who is always running off in a snit for mysterious reasons. Maybe she’s just upset that Mardi Gras comes only once a year. The opener, written by Young and Toni Graphia, plays with a quirky energy, moving from a murder case involving a black defendant accused of offing a lily-white senator and all variety of corruption lining every corner of city life, from the standard cash payoffs of politicos to rampant police misconduct. We even have the morality of alligators called into question. It all plays like Aaron Spelling under the influence, a soap that seems to revel in political incorrectness, and shot with an intoxicating funkiness by director of photography James Carter and his crew. Two hours of this gets to be a bit too much, and certainly serves to challenge anyone’s plausibility limits. But an hour a week of such a warped pot of gumbo might taste just fine.