Returning to television after four decades via A&E’s “100 Centre Street,” Sidney Lumet again offers up his take on cops and courtrooms. But despite a solid leading perf from Alan Arkin and the inherent appeal of Manhattan mayhem, the cabler’s first-ever drama series can’t overcome uninspired dialogue and dated plotlines. Viewers who have been waiting for the “Biography” network to break out with its own serious skein will tune in; what they’ll get, however, is a far cry from the helmer’s intense glory of “Serpico,” “Prince of the City” and “Dog Day Afternoon.”
Lumet kicked off his career in TV, working on popular fare like “Studio One” and “Omnibus” in the 1950s. But notwithstanding his familiarity with the medium, “Centre” doesn’t differentiate itself from similar projects; based on the two-hour premiere, it certainly doesn’t compare with ABC’s similarly themed “The Practice” and “NYPD Blue.”
Joe Rifkind (Alan Arkin) is a lenient judge at the title address who hopes the night court perps who come before him will appreciate his compassion. That mercy is tested when a rookie cop is murdered by a killer whom Rifkind had let go earlier that evening.
On the opposite side of the gavel are the young-and-hungry, idealistic district attorneys. Cynthia Bennington (Paula Devicq) is a Fifth Avenue type who cherishes her position in defiance of her father’s game efforts to bring her into the family firm.
She falls hard for Bobby Esposito (Joseph Lyle Taylor), a rumpled colleague whose dad can’t relate to his goals and whose brother is addicted to drugs and alcohol. They’re joined in later episodes by a legal hotshot (Manny Perez) whose dreams of handling sexier cases have temporarily been sidelined.
Subsequent plotlines help define the characters; when Bobby’s junkie sib asks for a “favor” (doctoring his arrest record), the young D.A. is torn between the “right” thing to do and the “blood” thing to do.
But the foundation, at least in the beginning, is really about the politics surrounding the murdered cop and the effects on judge Rifkind and his ardent supporters, including fellow benchmate Attallah Sims (LaTanya Richardson). That’s the only intriguing storyline here, as everything else, from Cynthia’s wide-eyed optimism to Bobby’s crisis, has been done before, and better.
Lumet wrote and directed the pilot, and while his love of the subject matter is obvious, the immediacy, emotion and pacing with which this kind of high-energy material thrives is non-existent.
Still, Lumet gets strong performances from his actors. Arkin is persuasive as one of the good guys whose reputation suffers; Taylor is perfectly cast as a disheveled but effective professional who wants desperately to shed his immigrant parents’ humble background; and Devicq is convincing enough as the poor rich girl.
And while it’s still unclear as to the role Richardson plays beyond the sympathetic friend, she shines as a feisty, no-bull magistrate fed up with the punks she sees on a daily basis.
Tech credits are only average, a surprise considering the lengths to which below-the-line players usually go when giving New York City a pulse.