October 9, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Bad Judge”


BAD JUDGE:  Thursday 9PM on NBC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on BAD JUDGE:  Rebecca Wright (Kate Walsh) is a hard-drinkin’, free-lovin’ gal–who also happens to be a tough Los Angeles judge.  Medical expert witness Gary (Ryan Hansen) is one of her bed partners, and she runs her court under the disapproving but bemused watch of Chief Judge Hernandez (Miguel Sandoval).  Her closest relationship, though, is with mellow bailiff Tedward (Tone Bell).

Episode 2:  The Bad Judge pilot heavily featured a tough-talking yet vulnerable young boy whose parents had been sent to jail by Judge Wright and who seemed likely to become her surrogate son, but he was nowhere to be seen in the show’s second episode, so thank heaven for small favors.  That absence was pretty much the high point of the episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Jamie Rhonheimer and directed by Jake Szymanski.

Series creators Chad Kultgen and Anne Heche simply haven’t created much of a show.  There’s nothing to Bad Judge besides its main character, and since NBC isn’t HBO, or even FX, Rebecca’s outrageousness consists of a hungover morning, some references to eating brownies made with ingredients from the evidence locker, and sleeping (decorously off screen) with a hunky but dumb fireman.  It’s fatally tame, and since it’s also witless, all the references to “muffin tops” and “hashtags” can’t make it feel remotely vital.  Rebecca’s smug superiority to everyone who crosses her path (in the court-case-of-the-week, she sentences a Lindsay Lohan type to 4 weeks community service in a convent, with the instruction to “find yourself”) is just annoying, and watching Walsh and Bell try to indicate a friendship rooted in coolness is an embarrassment.  Walsh pushes very hard to come across as insouciant and cutting edge, but it’s out of her range.

It says something about the world of mainstream television that when Bad Judge needed a showrunner, NBC and the studio brought in Liz Brixius, a co-creator of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie (but that show is a dramedy that takes its protagonist, and her problems, seriously), and when Brixius didn’t work out, her replacement was Betsy Thomas, who’s most recent credit was Whitney, another show (but a terrible one) about a tough woman.  I’d say it’s like the network had a list headed “Women Writers For Loudmouth Female Star Vehicles,” but it’s not “like” that at all–whether written down or not, lists like that are exactly how shows get staffed.  Meanwhile, the central character of Bad Judge is neither likable nor funny, and the males around her–there are no other regular woman characters–are no more than her straight men.

The episode’s big ending had Rebecca’s beloved old van pulverized by a truck, and that’s pretty much what the ratings did to Bad Judge last week.  The show was probably fated for a short run anyway, since The Blacklist is already scheduled to take over its hour in February, and it may not be canceled before that predestined end is reached, but its chances of surviving and moving to another timeslot are slim.  No one will mourn it; conveniently, its epitaph is also its title.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Convicted of Contempt of Television

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."