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"The Jury" is Still In

How badly did last Tuesday's premiere of Fox's The Jury do in the ratings? Let's just say I've seen SciFi Channel reruns of Stargate SG-1 get higher numbers. Ouch. If something doesn't change, and fast, I'm afraid that The Jury will swiftly go the way of Wonderfalls and countless other great shows that made the mistake of airing on Fox.

That's a damn shame, because The Jury is, at the very least, outstanding summer entertainment. Produced by Barry Levinson, Tom Fontana and James Yoshimura-- the same fellows who brought you a little show called Homicide: Life on the Street-- it's an intriguing look at the role that ordinary Joe and Jane Citizens play in the legal process. Can it compare even fleetingly to the glory of Homicide's best (Jon Seda-less) seasons? Not a chance. There's a definite sense that punches have been pulled here-- that the stories are a bit simpler and more straightforward than they could be, and the cast less vivid. Two episodes in, I don't know any of the recurring characters' names, and except for Barry Levinson himself as the amusingly gruff judge, sometimes I can barely tell them apart. (Which is not to say none of the regular cast make an impression-- the twitchy bailiff, his rotund deputy pal, and the judge's alarmingly adorable clerk are all fun characters who don't get nearly enough screen time.)

Even if some of the main cast tend to blend together, the members of the various juries who deliberate the show's cases tend to defy expectations. The lawyer sneaking into the bathroom to field e-mails on his Blackberry may be a jackass, but he analyzes the facts with impressive precision-- and in the end, he's right. And the compassionate woman fighting for the rights of a teen accused of murder is also letting her sympathies blind her to the details of the case. Without seeming any smarter than they ought to be, the jurors display a heartening sense of responsibility as they play amateur detective with the evidence at hand. The cases they tackle are never clear-cut; we're invited to be sympathetic to both the defendants and the families of the victims. By the end of each episode, we fully understand the consequences of the crime for everyone involved, which makes each hour's climactic revelation of what really happened downright riveting. Just as many of Issac Asimov's novels used paper-thin characters to discuss fascinating concepts, what The Jury lacks in personality it makes up for with thought-provoking moral questions.

If you enjoy TV that surprises and challenges you, then please, watch The Jury. And if you'd like to help the ratings, bring 11 of your friends with you


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