The Queens County Courthouse must have an odd sign at the entrance to direct traffic: Menacing defendants head down one hall to end up in the court of Judge Jack Moran (Oliver Platt), and the others, with cases that trigger giggles, venture off with judges Rose Barnea (L. Scott Caldwell) and Kim Vicidomini (Annabella Sciorra). Collectively, this juxtaposition creates an odd tone for CBS’ latest legal drama “Queens Supreme,” a plodding and vacant journey into the judicial system and characters that seem far too rote. Much as it’s great to see Platt back on TV, we’ve seen him do this smarter-than-the-average-bear guy before in “Deadline” and “The West Wing.”
CBS is down to just one legal hour on its schedule, “Judging Amy,” and “Queens Supreme” is being pitched as something it doesn’t deliver on its first two episodes: It’s neither quirky nor sufficiently serious or comic, and it shows little of the borough of Queens.
In the first two episodes, Moran ends up with a gun pointed at him for considerable lengths of time, first by an unhinged juror and then by a man Moran believes is an Irish mobster. There’s little sense of fear or terror in the scenes — Platt plays Moran so coolly, the character seems to believe he can talk his way through anything, and that includes getting his wife Maude (Kristen Johnson) not to demand a divorce.
When he figures out an odd legal wrinkle to get police reports entered as evidence in the Irish mob case, he not only befuddles an assistant district attorney, he becomes Superman in a robe capable of fighting crime and letting criminals feel like they received their just due.
Down the hall — and to get there we meet cute and cuddly law clerks and an elderly judge — are the courtrooms of Vicidomini and Barnea. In the pilot, Sciorra’s judge has a racial profiling case that boils down to whether a black man would run while wearing velour; episode two puts Caldwell’s justice in the middle of a porn dispute that elicits titters and, in the case of one law clerk, a considerable letdown. Said disappointment, though, leads to a judge taking a left turn and solving the case faster that you can say Perry Mason.
Caldwell and Robert Loggia, as Judge Thomas O’Neill, play the pragmatists, and their characters’ reasoned approach to the law doeslittle for the proceedings, unless the actions put before them strain taste or common sense. (Isn’t that why David E. Kelley sticks to quirky lawyers and lets the judges appear sane?) Sciorra, billed and promoted as young, attractive and ambitious, exudes none of those characteristics — she’s as sedentary as her mentors on the bench.
Marcy Harriell, as law clerk Carmen Hui, is the standout among the ensemble, used mostly to encounter the judges in hallways and push the exposition. Harriell plays the bright bulb among the crew, and her perky perf commands attention. Her counterpart, Mike Powell (James Madio), is too strident, a junior version of Moran played too far over the top.
David Platt’s direction in the pilot is standard-issue old-fashioned, and the second episode has all the freshness of “Marcus Welby, M.D.”
“Queens Supreme” is all about taking safe and familiar routes, perhaps the result of compromises brought on by the lengthy list of executives and companies above the line.
Names that are missing are Julia Roberts, who signed on as a producer and then exec producer before bailing, and Tim Robbins, initially inked as the pilot’s director. Kyra Sedgwick, cast as a D.A., will be featured in later episodes. Boasting the talents of Platt and Sciorra isn’t enough, though, to make up for the lack of vision.