NBC's 'Bad Judge' and 'A to Z': TV Reviews

'Bad Judge'
In one, a flamboyant judge upholds the law by day, flaunts the rules at night. In the other, boy meets girl and believes on very little evidence that she's the one forever. 

Two half-hours with unlikable characters, just waiting to see if you'll like them … you should probably pass

Unless you’re going to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface, as Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan did with the character of Walter White, then one of the key tenets of a television show is that you must have a likable lead character.

Hell, even Walter White was likable and sympathetic in the beginning.

But here we are in the midst of the competitive and expansive fall TV season rollout, and NBC is offering two comedies for the general public’s consumption.

Notice that one word was “NBC” and not, say, FX, where you might get an unlikable lead character. And the other word was “comedies” and not “gritty 10 p.m. drama.” The point here, people, is that a broadcast network is giving you two sitcoms early on a Thursday night — so why are the leads annoying?

Are we supposed to root for the leads of these shows to have success or, say, hope they turn a corner and are never seen again? After the pilots, the latter looks like a superb option.

At 9 p.m., NBC is offering up Bad Judge, with Kate Walsh as a hard-partying judge who upholds the rules by day and breaks them at night — so says NBC in its corny promos. Judge Rebecca Wright (Walsh, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) is a character we’ve seen hundreds of times — great on the job, a mess after hours. Even the idea that someone can be effective while also being a “rebel” is a trope so trite that it was last used with Fox on Rake, and you all remember that, right? Anyone?

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Even NBC’s revamped pilot of Bad Judge, which takes Walsh out of the band she played in at night as a drummer, isn’t really all that toned down. She still drives an old-school custom van with cheesy paintings on it. She still burps and says, “I had wine and cake for breakfast.” She still is often seen in shorts, which NBC has turned into an obsession. She pops up at cool places for drinks a lot, sometimes baring her legs.

Listen, Walsh has great legs. The whole show could take place with her wearing shorts and that would be fine, but not much better. But viewers get it already — she’s a T-shirts-and-shorts girl who likes beers and sleeping with people she’s familiar with at court. She’s a rebel — with a heart of gold (she basically plays social worker to the families who have kids, and she’s locked away the adults).

It is trite and boring, has almost no movement or believability and, outside of Walsh’s legs, has not one thing to recommend it. It came from an idea by Anne Heche, put into motion by Will Ferrell, so basically you have two famous people with a tired idea that NBC bought because, well — Heche, Ferrell, Walsh, Walsh’s legs — who says no to that? What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, the writing. And the tone. And the characters. Bad Judge immediately goes on the “how soon will it be canceled" list.

Following it at 9:30 p.m. is a romantic comedy called A to Z, which is about two cloying and annoying people who have a “meet-cute” and will eventually start dating.

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They are Andrew (Ben Feldman, Mad Men) and Zelda (Cristin Milioti, How I Met Your Mother), giving us the A and the Z of the title. Left out are the five or six other zzzzz’s as A to Z quickly puts you to sleep with its far-fetched Hallmark-style romance.

See, Andrew saw Zelda long ago at a club and swooned over her. Zelda just went home. Now that they’ve met and work nearby, well it totally is fate, right? Not exactly. And Zelda doesn’t think so. But Andrew is a hopeless romantic.

But A to Z is a hopeless rom-com, pushing all the familiar buttons from the genre. He pursues her, she resists, he keeps at it, eventually she sees the light. Apparently we are supposed to watch this relationship grow from chance meeting to, what, marriage in the fifth season? Maybe if the characters were two people you’d actually want to follow on a journey. As it stands, Andrew talks too much and is overzealous, and Zelda is kind of self-centered and annoying.

Whether they get together next week or never is of almost no intrigue — and that’s a problem if you’ve structured your entire series around that idea.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine