The next twist on courtroom drama

Times Staff Writer

There’s a reason it’s called jury duty, as Fox’s “The Jury” reminds us.

The big idea behind the new courtroom drama by Tom Fontana (“Homicide: Life on the Streets”) and Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”), at least according to the press release, is to “challenge the viewers’ sense of right and wrong” by granting us access to the goings-on inside the deliberation room, then filling us in on what really happened via an omniscient Steadicam.

“The Jury,” which premieres tonight at 8, may also challenge viewers’ threshold for how many rehashes of “12 Angry Men” -- 72 Angry Men? 144 Angry Men? And don’t forget the women -- they can take.

The show has the feel of something that at one time seemed like a great idea. But it was probably late. The result is as stylized -- even ritualized -- as its fellow furrow-browed, let’s-make-sense-of-it-all crime/legal/forensic dramas. The episodes get off to a frantic pace as hot, grainy crime footage gets spliced together with cool, fine-grained courtroom stuff. Spastic syncopation from Blue Man Group accompanies an even more frenetic credit sequence, in which herds of pedestrians stampede down sidewalks before being lassoed by graphics in a manner reminiscent of those billboards. Right away, we know what we’re in for: law, disorder, bombast, percussion. (Does anyone remember when Blue Man Group was all about critiquing art-world pretension and consumer mindlessness? Neither do I.)


“The Jury,” which, by definition, comprises 12 new individuals chosen at random each week, precludes much more than shallow character development. Battles are predictable, and characters disagree along the most tendentious lines. One juror accuses another of having sympathy for a defendant because, “He is Latin-o, you are Latin-a!”

Regulars include a stable of rotating characters, including “fiery” prosecutors Billy Burke (John Ranguso) and Jeff Hephner (Keenan O’Brien), defense attorneys Megan Delaney (Anna Friel) and Melissa Greenfield (1990s supermodel Shalom Harlow -- honestly, how’d you like to be the criminal?).

Maintaining a wobbly sense of continuity are quippy court bailiff Steve Dixon (Adam Busch), cute legal intern Marguerite Cisneros (Cote de Pablo), and a law enforcement officer who likes feng shui. The court’s presiding judge, Horatio Hawthorne, is played by Levinson. The inner life of the court stenographer remains, at present, unplumbed.

In the first episode, “Three Boys and Gun,” the jury attempts to solve the murder of a high school basketball star who was killed by a bullet while sleeping in his own bed. The 15-year-old boy on trial for murder is being tried as an adult. Deliberation begins after evidence has been presented, so the dialogue -- when not highlighting the jury’s wondrous ethnic and ethical diversity -- serves mainly as a flashback bridge. It’s a clunky tool, the kind that leads to exchanges like this one, which follows the bailiff’s delivering air freshener that was requested by a juror.

“So, who ordered the room deodorant?” asks ditsy blond juror. “A mystery!”

“Well, we have a bigger mystery than that to solve,” intones stentorian black juror. “The murder of Craig Sheridan.”

Judging by their persistent proliferation, crime/legal/forensic dramas will no doubt be the preferred mode of cockroach entertainment after a nuclear holocaust. But the theory of why we like them -- making sense of the world in one brief hour -- is ripe for amendment. Moral relativism now being the official sponsor of televised law enforcement, maybe we’re due for a break. It can’t be easy coming up with ever new and fresh variations on the crime and punishment genre, but if Dostoevsky could see what he had wrought he might have sent Raskolnikov out for firewood instead of the landlady.



‘The Jury’

Where: Fox

When: Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Encore, Fridays, 9 p.m.

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

John Ranguso...Billy Burke

Keenan O’Brien...Jeff Hephner

Anna Friel...Megan Delaney

Shalom Harlow...Melissa Greenfield

Adam Busch...Steve Dixon

Cote de Pablo...Marguerite Cisneros

Barry Levinson...Horatio Hawthorne

Directed by Barry Levinson. Produced by 20th Century Fox. Written and created by

James Yoshimura, Tom Fontana and Levinson. Executive producers are Levinson, Fontana, Jim Finnerty and Yoshimura.