Although “Conviction” doesn’t carry Dick Wolf’s usual brand, this new drama about crusading lawyers could easily be dubbed “Law & Order: Hot Young Prosecutors Edition,” or “HYPE” for short. Alas, featuring twentysomething characters and subplots can’t obscure that this remains primarily a procedural about putting away the guilty, while incorporating a younger cast and flashes of humor that generally aren’t associated with the “L&O” franchise. Credit NBC and Wolf with trying to serve old wine into a shapely new bottle, but if this trick works, look for the next “CSI” to be set in junior college.
NBC has made no bones about the show’s distinguishing characteristic, running promos stating that the average age of these “young prosecutors” is 28, which amounts to taking “Law & Order’s” revolving second chair and thrusting it to the forefront.
Series opens through the eyes of Nick Potter (Jordan Bridges), who abandons a corporate law firm for the New York District Attorney’s office, where, he’s told, he’ll have the privilege of “prosecuting the disenfranchised for 51 grand a year.” Hey, it’s a living.
The big innovation, such as it is, is that Wolf actually allows these assistant D.A.’s to have a greater semblance of life away from the office, unlike the old pros on “Law & Order,” who only screw bad guys. Even then, “SVU” alumna Stephanie March provides parental supervision as their bureau chief, and Fred Dalton Thompson makes a cameo in the premiere, meaning ties to the mother ship remain, despite efforts to erase the strings.
So while there are elements of office romance as well as humorous hazing of the new guy in the second hour, this is “L&O” through and through, with a major prosecution against a thug the attorneys fear will whack their star witness, balanced by lighter subplots. In the opener, the latter includes Sara (Julianne Nicholson) trying her first small-time case.
Despite making time for relationships, then, the prevailing sense is that they’ll be squeezed in between motions and impassioned pleas to juries. Wolf created the series, which was developed by fellow “Law” men Walon Green and Rick Eid, and the talented but, at least initially, mostly wasted cast includes Eric Balfour (quickly rebounding after “Sex, Love and Secrets” was booted just last fall), Milena Govich, Anson Mount and J. August Richards.
“Conviction” does exhibit a bit more creative promise than “Trial by Jury,” the fourth “Law & Order”-branded hour that disappointed commercially as well as creatively in the same timeslot. Indeed, as evidence of NBC’s shifting fortunes, if the new series can match tune-in for that earlier show, the network would probably let it run until the original cast is old and gray.
Of course, should that happen these players would have to move on, giving way to a new class of baby barristers. Once you’re committed to “HYPE,” after all, the prosecutors have to look the part.