Brooklyn D.A.: TV Review

Brooklyn D.A. - H 2013

Brooklyn D.A. - H 2013

An interesting and intimate look at the inner workings of Brooklyn prosecutors.

The CBS documentary series provides a worthwhile look inside the nation's busiest urban prosecutor's office, while attempting to shake off political controversy.

Brooklyn DA might sound like the latest scripted legal series, but CBS has heralded that the six-part documentary is anything but. The series has been in the news in the past few weeks for being, ironically, in court. Abe George, a challenger in the upcoming District Attorney race, has claimed the series amounts to a political ad for long-time incumbent DA Charles Hynes. A Manhattan judge is reviewing the case, which hinges on editorial control, but CBS has been quick to also point out that the 77-year old Hynes is not even mentioned or seen until the third episode, in which he plays a minor role.

The hype of the case in the New York media, though, will likely add some viewers for the series, which, for summer filler, is very palatable and occasionally compelling. Brooklyn DA spends its premiere episode following three Assistant District Attorneys -- Lawrence Oh, Kathleen Collins, and Ken Taub -- as they prepare to try three very different cases.  Oh, who has a passion for eating (and does so constantly, despite a slim frame, saying, "I like to think it's charming, but not every one likes it"), is involved in a case about a house painter charged with stealing three valuable works of art from an estate, while Collins is ready to bring a sex trafficking case she's been working on for two years to court. In the most emotional case of the three, Taub works on the prosecution of a man who murdered a police officer.

The episode flows seamlessly among the three stories, building them slowly and clearly. Viewers who enjoy veteran legal series like Law and Order and NBC's Dateline will find much to appreciate here, and even cynics will have to appreciate the fact that not every case has a happy ending. As a judge says after one of the cases falls apart, "it's not about chalking up wins and losses, it's about the pursuit of justice." The show also shares some similarity in tone with TNT's police docuseries Boston's Finest, balancing the chronicling of work with a look at home life. For instance, Collins is shown relieving job stress at the gym and then going home to a supportive husband, while Oh is shown, well, eating. A lot. 

The Brooklyn District Attorneys office handles more than 80,000 cases a year, which makes it rich for documentarians, although the pace of the editing doesn't suggest a hurried atmosphere despite the overwhelming case load (the largest of any urban area). Still, the ADAs mention that cases like the ones Collins and Taub are working on in the premiere episode are ones that make them the most motivated, particularly the case of slain NYPD officer Peter Figoski, whose four daughters are featured several times talking emotionally about their father.

The variety of the three cases also keeps the proceedings interesting, whereas a focus on just one type of case might drag. Oh shows how their team is setting a trap for the alleged art thief; Taub goes over what happened in Figoski's killing with a matter-of-factness about how they determined the angle of the shot and the circumstances around the shooting; and Collins explains how a pimp might lure a down-and-out 14-year-old into his clutches.

Brooklyn DA also touches on changes in Brooklyn itself, with Taub saying "20 years ago the crime rate was five times what it is now. There are neighborhoods I wouldn't go into then that I can't afford to live in now." Oh gives an example of embracing the close-knit feeling of the borough by consulting his deli-counter friend Jose about cases (without specifics, but in a desire for moral support along with his order of brussel sprouts with cheese). Ultimately, Brooklyn DA is an intimate look at urban prosecutors that, even though it can feel a little too clean, certainly stands out among unscripted summer programming.