The Black Box: “Bad Judge”

Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong.

This week, we look at a bad show about a bad judge.

This is gonna be a tough one, because there is literally nothing to this show. I try to pick what I’m going to review carefully, but every once in a while, I get a show like this that I don’t know how to talk about. It’s a good example of bad “edgy” comedy. It uses terrible characters and zero storytelling skills but tries to cover all that up with some bullshit sentimentality. Also, the protagonist reminded me of someone I know and it weirded me out a bunch.

“Bad Judge” follows Judge Rebecca Wright, a functional alcoholic and routine poor decision maker who gets too involved with the lives of those she affects. The series premiered on NBC on October 2nd, 2014 and lasted a total of thirteen episodes before it’s cancellation. In the first episode, Wright does, like, some stuff? It’s hard to summarize because there’s no story structure.

What they did right: Some of the supporting cast, namely the bailiff and Wright’s boyfriend, do fine jobs and could probably do well with better material.

What they did wrong: The main character is incredibly unlikeable, the jokes fall flat, and the entire show feels painfully formulaic. Let’s start from that last one and work backwards, shall we? Tell me if this sounds familiar: A douchebag protagonist who passes themselves off as a professional is given care of a child, which forces them to get their shit together and come out of their grumpy shell– OF COURSE YOU’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE, IT’S A WELL WORN PLOT BY NOW!!! I’ve seen this plot, or variations of it an infinity of times. Sometimes it’s done well (2014’s “Bad Words”) and sometimes it isn’t (2013’s “Grudge Match”). Also, notice how I only needed to go back two years to find MULTIPLE EXAMPLES OF THIS TROPE?!?!

The jokes in this show are painfully boring. As I wrote in my notes, “Either be more funny or be less funny” because whatever’s going on here just isn’t working. Have you ever been on a cross-country Jetblue/Virgin America flight or sitting in a hotel room bored, clicking through channels? In that process, have you ever stumbled onto Comedy Central to find that some middle of the road mid-2000’s comedy is playing, usually one that describes itself as “raunchy?” And then you just decided to leave the channel tuned to that because, hey, it’s a thing you can watch and maybe it’ll keep you mildly entertained until the “Key & Peele” reruns start? The feeling you get from that is the same feeling you get from “Bad Judge”. It feels like something you watch because you’re waiting for it to end. And to be fair, I was eagerly waiting for it to end. In the opening scene, Judge Wright takes a pregnancy test moments before entering the courtroom after waking up with a violent hangover because she’s super irresponsible! Do you get the joke? Because it’s the only one you’ll be getting throughout this pilot. There’s a difference between your character not being responsible and your character being a literal functional alcoholic.

This show is terrible from a purely technical aspect as well. Not only is it riddled with jump cuts and other poor editing decisions, but it also has absolutely no storytelling ability. There is no real first, second, or third act. The episode really is just a bunch of stuff happening to an unlikable character. Despite being called “Bad Judge”, the show really doesn’t work as a courtroom show. Hell, there is one court case in this pilot, and it takes up a total of two scenes. We see bail being set, and we see the sentencing. That’s it.

The plot goes thusly: Judge Wright hears a case. Judge Wright is called by an ten-year-old boy whose parents she put in jail  because he’s in trouble at school. She gets him somewhat out of trouble. When she drops him off at his group home, she advises him to try and beat up his bully. He does this and gets in trouble, enough so that his family wants to send him to a home for troubled youth called Edgewater, which sounds like a prison from a DC Comic Book. Where are they gonna send him if he screws up again? Blackgate? Iron Heights? Anyway, Judge Wright uses her influence over the medical expert she’s sleeping with to get the boy declared “not a danger” and leaves him pretty much the way she found him. Then she goes drinking.

So not only is that series of events endlessly boring to read, but do you notice anything about it? The main conflict would not have happened if our main character hadn’t gotten involved! Judge Wright is what I like to call a “prick-tagonist”. A prick-tagonist is a protagonist who only serves to create problems for other people that they then solve. I don’t care that they solved the problem, if they had just fucked off in the first place, nothing would have needed solving!! Judge Wright is a TEXTBOOK prick-tagonist. She bumbles into this kid’s life, gives him advice that almost gets him committed, and then barely manages to get him off the hook through further quasi-illegal actions. Also, Dr. Boyd is said to be a MEDICAL Expert, so how the fuck does his testimony on someone’s PSYCHOLOGICAL state have any weight at all? Also also, A JUDGE SLEEPING WITH AN EXPERT WITNESS AND NOT DISCLOSING THAT SHIT IS A SERIOUS CRIME!!!!!

All of Judge Wright’s actions are made far less acceptable when you remember that her job IS TO SENTENCE PEOPLE FOR CRIMES!!! There is a way to do a show about someone with an important job who’s still really irresponsible, but you can’t try to make that character likable. The show acts as if Judge Wright’s actions are endearing, but they really aren’t. I’m sorry, but I don’t want the woman deciding whether I live or die to have a massive hangover while she does it. In addition to that, she seems to learn NOTHING from the experience. When Robby rightfully blames her for giving him bad advice, her response is “fine, I’ll fix it” not “oh boy, I kinda fucked up there, now didn’t I?” I’m not even sure if she apologized.

Honestly, this show is bad mostly because it really doesn’t try. it takes a cliche formula, cliche characters, and no plot structure whatsoever, and combines it into something bland and unremarkable. For the crime of being a bad television show, I find it guilty by virtue of negligence.

I’m taking next week off because I’m moving, but the week after I’ll be back with something that I hope is either better or much, much worse.

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