Trial by Jury [1994]

There are plenty of things about Law & Order: Trial by Jury, the fourth series and third spinoff (after SVU and Criminal Intent) in executive producer Dick Wolf's popular and reliable franchise, that loyal viewers will find familiar, even comforting. There's the taut, ripped-from-the-headlines storytelling; the Kobe Bryant rape case (in "Pattern of Conduct") and the infamous Amadou Diallo shooting (in "Forty-One Shots") are but two examples among the fourteen episodes in this three-disc set. There are appearances, some of them recurring, by Sam Waterston, Fred Thompson, the late Jerry Orbach (in his final episodes as Det. Lennie Briscoe), and other stalwarts from the original series. There's an SVU "cross-over" episode, and another ("Skeleton") that follows up on the shooting of L & O detective Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin). And then there's the theme music, the intro ("In the criminal justice system")… and that ineffable sound that leads from one scene to another. Yet Trial by Jury also has many aspects that set it apart from the other Law & Order shows. In focusing not on police procedure but on the trial process, it shines a brighter light on the defendants (who in most cases have already been apprehended when an episode starts), the juries (including the selection process, deliberations, and the role of jury consultants), the various lawyers' strategies, and even the judges' personal opinions. All of that leads to some interesting situations, like the scene in "Forty-One Shots" that finds a group of policemen, barred from the courtroom for making a disturbance during the trial of a cop killer, waiting anxiously outside for the verdict. Nevertheless, there are reasons why Trial by Jury failed to connect with viewers, airing for just two months in 2005 before being canceled by NBC. The cast is one of them; for example, A.D.A. Tracey Kibre (Bebe Neuwirth), the lead prosecutor, is tough but not especially likable. More than that, with its predilection for tight close-ups, personal details, melodrama, and such, the series is simply too much like standard nighttime TV fare. Good but not great, Law & Order: Trial by Jury (the set includes a few deleted scenes and a short featurette) will certainly have its adherents, but it falls a little short of its distinguished predecessors. --Sam Graham

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