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Following Trials of ‘Judging Amy’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“People depend on me. They expect things,” Judge Amy Gray says midway through the season premiere of “Judging Amy,” as she tries to keep her grip amid personal and professional turmoil. It is a moment of vulnerability that expresses strength, a duality that viewers have come to expect from this dramatic series.

Tonight, CBS begins the third year of the trials and tribulations of Gray (Amy Brenneman), who doesn’t conform to jurist stereotypes. Yes, we see her dispense justice in a Hartford, Conn., family court. But how many times have you seen Judge Wapner in chambers in some sleeveless number?

More important, we see Gray deal with rearing young Lauren (Karle Warren, in just one scene tonight) after divorce and carrying on complicated relationships with her writer brother, Vincent (Dan Futterman); her court services officer, Bruce (Richard T. Jones); and her opinionated social worker mother, Maxine (Tyne Daly), who lives with Amy and Lauren.

Indeed, this week’s court case seems almost an afterthought, as a son from an Italian family with--shall we say?--"connections” stands accused of burning down a minimarket. Weighing greater on the judge’s mind are two more personal matters of guilt: First, she and Vincent aren’t speaking. Second, she argues with a lawyer who proceeds to go into cardiac arrest.

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A far different crisis of the heart occupies Maxine. She is working with a couple deciding whether to give up an adopted daughter whose violent behavior may threaten their biological child.

How these story lines intersect remains to be seen. In this somber episode, they are presented on parallel tracks, with Daly and Brenneman delivering fine acting that rescues sometimes cliched material. (Both performers are nominated for Emmys for last season.) Considering how well the two interact on screen, it’s a pity they appear together in only one scene at the start.

By show’s end, there are so many loose ends that one suspects mother and daughter will have a lot to discuss. Let’s hope it’s not all hearsay.

“Judging Amy” premieres tonight at 10 on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language).

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Surf Report

MOVIES

Gary Cooper stars as a retired marshal who stands alone against a gang of outlaws in “High Noon” (5 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. AMC) with Grace Kelly.

SERIES

From his childhood in New York to his role in the Persian Gulf war, Secretary of State Colin Powell is profiled on “Biography” (8 p.m. A&E;).

Some of “Frasier’s” past love interests, including former “Cheers” co-stars Shelley Long and Bebe Neuwirth appear in the season premiere (9 p.m. NBC).

In “The Guardian” (9 p.m. NBC) Simon Baker plays a lawyer who must perform community service or be disbarred.

SPORTS

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The Dodgers host the Giants (7 p.m. FSN2) while the Angels visit the A’s (7 p.m. KCAL).


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