Sally Field returns to series television, but ABC will need to find some mighty patient audiences to get “The Court” on next year’s docket. John Wells’ attempt to juice more drama out of D.C.’s hallowed chambers shares with the Wells-produced “The West Wing” a slow and deliberate pace, with a large cast that tackles complex and jargon-riddled issues. But its courtcentric competition, “Judging Amy” on CBS, is far more familial and easily digested.
“The Court” begins with Kate Nolan (Field), a governor of an unnamed state — her background, though, is all Ohio — arriving in D.C. for a presidential meeting. Turns out hers is the only name on a list of replacements for a judge who died in a car accident. As she weaves her way through meetings, conferences and a nomination hearing, Nolan is established as a “one vote at a time” judge, the sort of politico who is neither liberal nor conservative. As the pilot plays out, it’s clear she’s the only Supreme Court justice like this — everyone else has an agenda.
Meanwhile, a local TV political talking head, Harlan Brandt (Craig Bierko), heads to Ohio to chronicle Nolan’s privileged life and contrast it with that of Charlene Grissom (Cynthia Ettinger), who is sentenced to a lengthy prison stay after her third strike, stealing a credit card to buy lingerie. What their two lives have in common is never quite clear. Brandt stumbles into a skeleton that may be in Nolan’s closet; word gets back to her that he’s out there digging away, and all members of Nolan’s camp are confident nothing will come of it. Certainly, Brandt’s investigation will be a running theme through the show.
“The Court” is shot well enough for an hourlong pilot, but it lacks “West Wing’s” majesty and filmlike qualities. The characters are almost all by-the-book judges as Pat Hingle, Miguel Sandoval and Chris Sarandon play one side of the political spectrum or the other. They engage in dogmatic arguments, and it seems that only a swell person like Nolan can get them to stop and reflect. There is little care and concern among the players here, and when it does get a little personal, it turns sudsy.
Creator Carol Flint does, however, cover an extraordinary amount of ground in the pilot, especially in setting up Nolan’s history. Jonathan Kaplan’s direction is concise and keeps the interest level up when the material gets dragged down by legalese.