Any experiment – Wright Brothers’ flight, man on the moon, mixing chocolate with marshmallow – will have its problems.
Let’s think of the upcoming “All Rise” episode (son here) — 9 p.m. Monday, May 4, on CBS — that way. It’s flawed, but fascinating.
As COVID-19 struck, productions shut down and actors were sent home. Then came the idea of concocting an episode that could be done from their homes … representing the characters’ homes.
This has already worked for other genres. We have at-home talk shows, music specials, music competitions (“American Idol,” “The Voice”) and comedy sketches (“Saturday Night Live”). We even had a full comedy half-hour (“Parks and Recreation Reunion”); an at-home game show will start May 12 on cable’s BYUtv.
But a full drama hour, done with characters in separate homes? That took some fresh thinking.
“All Rise” centers on Lola Carmichael, a first-year judge in Los Angeles. As this story begins, the quarantine has been lingering. The court backlog grows, prisoners are crowded and unsafe, lawyers and staffers are fuming.
So Lola gets permission to do a virtual trial. Emily is the defense lawyer, which is often the case. For the first time, Mark – Lola’s longtime friend – is the prosecutor; they’re shown here, onscreen,
Tied in here are all the personal stories of self-quarantine. Emily has a virtual romance with Luke … Mark has virtual sex with Quinn … Lola has a virtual marriage, with her husband working a continent away. Also, Lola’s boss is learning to cook and Lola’s mom is a swirl of do-good activities.
All of this was shot – via FaceTime, WebEx, Zoom and more – in actors’ homes. Faces zip across the screen, with occasional interludes of a mellow DJ and views of a vacant Los Angeles.
Most of it is slick and fun; these are good actors, working with solid material. But the trial is a mess.
First, it’s hard to believe that this rookie judge has to figure it out herself. By this point, county and state officials would have had lots of conversations about virtual trials.
Second, the case chosen is surprisingly weak. Judge Judy would dispose of it in a minute.
And when it begins? The first day lasts five minutes, tops; then everyone retreats to the next day.
.All of that shouldn’t erase a solid try at distanced drama. Hey, the first Wright Brothers flight lasted 12 seconds and 120 feet. By modern aviation standards that would be insufficient, but it seemed exciting at the time.