[Note: This review contains spoilers.]
Conviction is a mid-season replacement by Dick Wolf about young prosecutors, which premieres Friday, March 3 on NBC. I had a chance to see the pilot episode through an I-Tunes promotion, and I wanted to check out how the Law and Order folks would portray the role of prosecutors in our society.
It was appalling.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a well-produced slick formula series that pushes all the right buttons, and it may do well. But it’s not a bit about justice and it continues that conviction-at-all-costs, defendants-are-scum philosophy (along with sensationalism) that was developed in the 27 or so Law and Order series.
There are a whole lot of very attractive young prosecutors having sex and dealing with their personal problems along with their prosecutorial jobs, and they end up at a bar at the end of the day Ã la Ally McBeal. But unlike Ally McBeal, the bars are meaningless (and so is the sex).
There’s the attractive African American prosecutor who never lost a case, (and to protect his record will dump the tough ones), the sloppy guy with his shirt-tails out who’s a good prosecutor but can’t handle his personal life, the attractive brunette who’s sleeping with her boss, the idealistic young man who comes from a privileged family and will have to shed that baggage. And I didn’t care about any of them.
There was one — an Assistant DA — that gave me just a glimmer of hope that here might be a character that cared about justice (and not just conviction). But they killed him off halfway through the pilot, in an apparent manipulative shock moment to make us see that prosecutors have tough, scary lives, and so we could feel for the young prosecutors who were sorry that their boss was dead.
Now lets take a look at the cases being prosecuted. Mostly drugs, of course. The marquee event was the Escobar case. The producers wanted to be sure there would be no question which side you should be on. The drug trafficker was a sleazy guy who would entice attractive blond white women into partying at his clubs and then convince them to swallow balloons of drugs and smuggle them. When one of the balloons broke and a girl started to OD, he personally slit her belly open to retrieve the drugs, all in the presence of her friend (who oddly had been allowed to turn down the drug smuggling offer and even more oddly was left alive to tell the story).
The prosecutors were going to do anything to get their conviction.
At one point, when the witness is too scared to testify…
There’s no proof she committed a crime.
Find some. A couple nights in Ryker and she’ll sing Bel Canto.
Later, they do arrest her, charging her with felony drug conspiracy and felony murder, in order to force her testimony.
The second case — the comic relief subplot case — was about a young black man arrested for selling crack.
The officer — an incredibly fat white man who looked like he’d have a heart attack if he walked 10 feet — tells the green prosecutor:
You didn’t plead him out? I appreciate your efforts, counselor, but this case is strictly N-H-I… there was No Humans Involved — it’s scum dealing drugs to scum. A less enlightened guy might say “who cares.”
The young prosecutor screws up every aspect of the case, from not knowing how to question a witness to losing track of the evidence, and the curmudgeonly judge helps her through these lapses.
In the trial, the defendant and his attorney (who claim he was framed) extensively (and rightly) ridicule the cop’s claim that he chased the defendant for 100 yards. I was convinced the defendant was innocent, and the jury seemed convinced as well. And then the young prosecutor steps up with her summation:
There’s no question that the defendent, by virtue of his charm and humor and eloquence was able to diminish the serious nature of the crime with which he’s been charged. I mean, let’s face it. He was funny. He made you laugh. He was, in a word, entertaining.
But picture him in a different setting — the street. A place where he deploys his humor and his charm and his eloquence to entice naive children to experiment with crack — the poison that he sells — the poison that decimates so many promising lives. And that, ladies and gentlemen… is not funny.
[At that point, a dramatic camera shift shows the judge, who smiles and nods — she did good]
Yep, it’s the “Drugs are bad, Mmmkay” prosecution. It wasn’t about witnesses, or developing a link between the evidence and the defendant. No. The prosecutor said “Drugs are bad,” and the jury said: “Well, the defendant must be guilty, then.”
Now, I understand that this is television. It’s not a documentary, and there’s no requirement that a dramatic television series reflect reality. And sterotypical exploitive criminal justice storylines are much easier to write and sell. I fully support the right of NBC to program whatever they wish and for individuals to watch it or not as they wish.
Also, the show is intended to be about the characters — the young prosecutors — and the actual prosecution is of secondary importance to the writers. And who knows — the characters may turn out to be interesting as the series continues.
But it does make me sad.
Audiences who follow this show are going to continue to get a viewpoint that the only thing that matters is conviction, the defendant is always scum, and that things like the Bill of Rights are annoyances around which the prosecution must navigate.
I’m just going to have to return to the television I can trust… on the Sci-Fi channel.