Tyne Daly has made the psychic leap from buddy cop to domineering mom in this curiously uninvolving hour that seems to exist as a test of just how much crap a young woman — played in this case by Amy Brenneman, formerly of “NYPD Blue — can endure from her mother before she will turn to matricide. Indeed, the message that leaps to the fore from the outset of “Judging Amy” is that if you’re going to become a judge, it’s probably a bad idea to live with someone who reminds you daily that you’re clueless. This tension, however, is a poor TV substitute for compelling self-examination.
Airing opposite the vastly superior new fortysomething-style ensemble “Once and Again” on ABC in the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot (“NYPD Blue” lands there in a couple of months), “Judging Amy” tries awfully hard to impart the idea that everyone has mommy problems, even Harvard grads wearing judicial robes.
Yet what the pilot script from exec producer Barbara Hall tends to gloss over is this simple fact: Few people can relate to a character who separates from her husband, lands a judgeship virtually simultaneously, then chooses to move in with her opinionated, obnoxious mama.
Show opens 10 years in the past, with Amy Gray (Brenneman) having cold feet on her wedding day and finally deciding to marry the guy based on a coin flip. Back in the present, we see the coin didn’t fall the right way. Amy is legally separated, having just packed up and moved with her darling little daughter, Gillian (Jessica Tuck), from New York to Hartford, Conn. And as she lay in her bed, it’s day one of her new job as a Superior Court judge.
Problem is, her mother, Maxine (Daly) — whose home Amy and Lauren now share, is herself a retired judge. Max also quickly proves herself to be overbearing, insensitive, meddling and altogether domineering. And she smokes cigarettes!
The insecure Amy gets the lay of the judging land even as relations with mom heat to a boil. She has heart-to-hearts with her nice-guy, slacker brother Vincent (nice work from Dan Futterman) and lots of bonding time with her huggable little moppet.
By the end of the premiere, it’s possible to feel some hope that this show can overcome its penchant for bogging down in mock dramatics and helmer James Hayman’s soft-focus artsy stylings and merit a second look. For one, Brenneman is a talented dramatic actress whom the camera adores. But what would be the point of tuning in every week to watch a professional woman get mercilessly browbeaten by her mom?
Heed the wisdom of these two words, Judge Amy: Move out.
Tech credits are solid enough.