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NPR Arts and Life

The Overworked 'Bad Judge' Still Doesn't Work

Kate Walsh as Rebecca in NBC's <em>Bad Judge.</em>
Kate Walsh as Rebecca in NBC's <em>Bad Judge.</em>

The bummer about Bad Judge, a comedy premiering Thursday night on NBC, is that Kate Walsh is funny. There's a particular moment when she decides to sing something she's just said, and just in that brief moment, she's legitimately funny.

But boy, she is stuck in a stinker here, a show that they've substantially revamped from the weak original pilot until it still isn't very good, but now it doesn't even make any sense.

When I first saw this show at press tour in July, Judge Rebecca Wright, played by Walsh, was a jurist by day, sort of, and a member of a ladies' rock band by night. Despite her rebel attitudes and bad behavior (she has sex in her chambers and wakes up hung over and in need of a pregnancy test), she was roped into helping out and then getting attached to an adorable young kid, who it certainly seemed was going to be the other half of the show — it played like kind of a buddy comedy where the irresponsible, jaded lady was warmed up by a moppet.

Later, it got a new showrunner (Liz Brixius of Nurse Jackie) and was re-imagined into a show where Rebecca is constantly getting into trouble with her superiors for caring too much about the people she interacts with as a judge. (Brixius has since left.) So what used to be a character who was legitimately not always nice to people but was learning to love — which is silly, but whatever — is now just a lady who already cares but doesn't always get credit for it because she seems kind of rough around the edges. Now it's a show that doesn't even know what the point of itself is. It doesn't look like the kid is part of the show going forward, so perhaps she's going to help somebody different every week.

There's a supporting cast, including Ryan Hansen (who has actually been on some good shows, like Party Downand Veronica Mars) and Tone Bell, and character actor Miguel Sandoval, but they're not really doing very much other than stand around while they try to figure out the central character and why you'd watch a show about her. It started out as a watery but well-meant effort to show a woman who had some real problems figuring out how to care about people besides herself. Now it's a maudlin look at an unambiguously good character who gets into scrapes because she's so good. And, of course, it's about the fact that even though she says she plays the field, she gets upset when the guy with whom she's supposed to be casual is casual with her.

Both pilots, though, start with the same opening shot of Kate Walsh's lace-clad behind, so they're still sticking to part of the marketing plan.

In the second episode, we find Judge Wright flattening a jerk's tires with an axe while wearing a lace bustier before giving the finger to a bunch of paparazzi who are following her because she's handling a celebrity. And it goes on from there.

This seems like a show exceedingly unlikely to succeed (although hey, if lady-cop show The Mysteries Of Lauracan make a go of it, who knows?), but it won't be because Walsh isn't funny. It will be because even good shows often suffer from too much tinkering, and not-so-good shows can suffer even more.

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Corrected: October 2, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
We originally referred to Liz Brixius as being with the show for the original pilot and not there for this version, but it's actually the other way around — she was not there for the original pilot, worked on this one, and is now gone again.