Finding a new way to do a legal procedural is such a difficult prospect at this point that it would be hard to blame TV for giving up entirely and just going on autopilot. “All Rise,” however, both indulges the basics of the genre and finds some refreshing ways to twist them into slightly new, more intriguing shapes. Between its cast, subject matter, and many charming friendships, it almost feels like “All Rise” accidentally wandered onto CBS’ schedule on its way to ABC’s Shonda Rhimes-driven TGIT lineup.
The clearest example of this comes with the show’s lead character of Lola (Simone Missick), a determined and deeply empathetic attorney turned judge who forms the show’s main perspective and moral backbone. In “Courtroom 302,” Steve Bogira’s nonfiction book about a Chicago courtroom that series creator Greg Spottiswood turned to for inspiration, the central “character” is a white man. This would usually make him a perfect fit to lead a CBS procedural, but Lola is purposefully neither of those things. (She also lives and works in Los Angeles, a setting that’s obviously been used to death in television, but which does get a bit of a different portrayal in “All Rise” with cases of the week often devoted to the city’s poorer residents.) When Lola walks into the judges’ lounge for the first time, a quick scan of the room proves that the vast majority of her new peers are predominantly male — the big exception being her immediate superior, played with efficiency by Marg Helgenberger — and entirely white.
Lola’s point of view is inherently different, and as her courtroom soon learns, so is her approach to the bench. The show’s first few cases run the gamut from serious (ICE raids) to silly (online avatar assassination), but Lola’s commitment to seeing them all through despite outside pressure to take easier shortcuts remains a compelling constant throughout. The pilot occasionally tries to frame Lola as an endearing mess, but thankfully steers away from that cliché with help from Missick’s grounded warmth in the role.
If “All Rise” depended too much on Lola being wildly different from the norm to drive the stories, though, it would tip back over into predictable. So it’s a relief, then, that the series rounds out its cast with solid characters who actually act like people rather than flat archetypes, including passionate public defender Emily (Jessica Camacho), wry stenographer Sara (Lindsay Mendez), and Luke (J. Alex Brinson), a sweet baliff studying to be a lawyer himself. And as Lola’s reluctant aide, theater veteran Ruthie Ann Miles leans into a curt comedy that shakes up the rhythm of her scenes. But the most fun (and slyly subversive) dynamic belongs to that between Lola and her best college friend Mark (Wilson Bethel). Four episodes in, there are no signs that their friendship will turn into a romance — which is an incredibly welcome change of pace. They’re straightforward and fun with each other, supportive and loyal. There are so few TV shows anchored by a strictly platonic friendship between a man and a woman that Lola and Mark’s is genuinely a little shocking. If “All Rise” can continue to sidestep the most tired tropes for more novel approaches like this, it will find a place on TV all its own.
“All Rise” premieres September 23 at 9 pm on CBS.
40 minutes; 4 episodes watched for review.