Add “Blind Justice” to the growing roster of crimeshows with a twist, as ABC and producer Steven Bochco attempt a baton-pass from “NYPD Blue” to a new cop franchise. Ron Eldard is a solid anchor as a New York detective who returns to work after losing his sight, but three episodes in it’s questionable how long the creators can sustain this premise and how many cases can be solved based on sense of smell. Well written and cast, series is earnest but dry and runs the risk of being blindsided by “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
A small counterweight in “Justice”‘s favor is that recent “Blue” ratings haven’t set expectations terribly high. That means the series won’t be expected to work miracles, even if there is something rather miraculous about Det. Jim Dunbar’s abilities.
Wounded in a gritty gunbattle shown at the outset, Dunbar sues to be reinstated as a detective, though not surprisingly few of his new colleagues welcome his return. Paired with an attractive partner, Karen (Marisol Nichols), in a nice wrinkle it quickly becomes clear that Dunbar was actually kind of a prick before being blinded, screwing around on his wife (Rena Sofer) and throwing his share of sharp elbows.
In the premiere, the new crime-fighting duo are clearly being kept out of the big leagues — shuttled off to investigate a stolen car — when Dunbar remarkably links the crime scene to a series of murders. Yet while the pilot does a nice job depicting his struggles to adapt — memorizing the number of steps, say, from his desk to the boss’s office — the skepticism surrounding his worth persists even after he seems to have amply demonstrated it. Despite helping crack several cases, Dunbar is still squaring off with a precinct hard-ass, Marty (Frank Grillo), which grows a bit tiresome.
Thanks to the talented writing team (Bochco shares “created by” credit with “Blue” alumni Nicholas Wootton and Matt Olmstead), “Justice” has its share of worthwhile moments, including a future episode when a panicked Dunbar is separated from his guide dog. That said, too many breaks hinge on him exhibiting Daredevil-like powers, sniffing out cologne or traces of gunpowder.
In as much as the producers know this terrain so well, the terse cop dialogue is sharp and authentic, but the hero’s plight brings a fanciful element to the proceedings. And while Eldard and the earthy Nichols provide a strong central tandem, none of the supporting players is especially well drawn initially.
Another drawback, beyond the show’s control, is the wider trend toward gimmicky procedurals. Primetime now has a blind cop, a psychic sort-of cop (“Medium”), a math-whiz part-time cop (“Numbers”), and an obsessive-compulsive detective (“Monk”). At a certain point, fatigue of some kind has to set in.
What that backdrop augurs for “Blind Justice” remains to be seen, but as a solidly executed show built on a shaky foundation, the scales appear tipped against it.