May 28--"Brooklyn DA," which premieres Tuesday on CBS for a six-week run, has been the subject of some controversy in the city (and borough) where it's set.
Abe George, who is running to unseat current Kings County Dist. Atty. Charles Hynes, went to court to keep the series from airing, charging that it isn't a "documentary series," as the network asserts, but rather "reality TV" with no "legitimate news purpose," an infomercial giving his opponent "millions in free publicity." Though the judge has yet to issue a final decision, he has also allowed the broadcast (for the time being, at least) to proceed.
Additionally, Hynes, his office and the New York Police Department are being sued by one Jabbar Collins, released from prison after 15 years, after demonstrating that his murder conviction was based on coerced testimony. (Hynes does not appear -- is not even named -- in the only episode available to review, but his longtime lieutenant, rackets division chief Michael Vecchione, who is also named in the suit, does.)
The question of whether "Brooklyn DA" is a creature of the news or the entertainment department of CBS, which is key to George's argument, only highlights the blurring of the lines between the two. Creator Patti Aronofsky and executive producer Susan Zirinsky both come from the true-crime series "48 Hours," produced, like "Brooklyn DA," under the aegis of CBS News; but that show is also crafted as dirty prime-time fun. Indeed, in the context of television, the word "reality" has acquired an opposite meaning -- "reality show" is, of course, an oxymoron -- and now stands for something short of real. Thus the network's insistence on the word "documentary."
Whatever its provenance, the series does speak in the excited tones of reality television -- shots that last rarely last more than a couple of seconds, scenes that last hardly longer; quick applications of color (here is one prosecutor at the gym, here is another at the deli counter), moody soundtrack music telling you when and how to feel. No one will mistake this for the work of Frederick Wiseman. Nor is it any sense investigative journalism; the point is not to examine but to honor.
Documentary or not, we are meant to see the characters -- the series would be more accurately titled "Brooklyn ADAs," since it is all about the assistant district attorneys -- as related to the familiar heroes of fiction: "These hard-charging prosecutors have larger-than-life personalities both inside the courtroom and out," a CBS press release hopefully declares. "They're eccentric and living right on the edge. They're the people living the lives that Hollywood loves to write about. Their stories are raw and emotional."
The show is indeed diverting. Nothing surprising, but pretty consistently interesting and as easy to watch as any invented procedural. The cases reflect a range of situations and settings, the prosecutors an array of types. It is a big office, with some 500 lawyers on staff, and whatever its problems, and problem children, it could have been no problem to find prosecutors who were telegenic, sympathetic, empathetic and, though sometimes disappointed, neither jaded nor cynical.
We follow three in the first episode (though we will meet others). Lawrence Oh, a bureau chief in the rackets division, is setting up a sting to catch an art thief. His is the lighthearted, semi-comical thread. His Designated Character Quirk is that he likes to eat.
Assistant D.A. Kathleen Collins is the rookie, eager and energetic and full of purpose. ("I personally could never be a defense attorney," she says.) Her first argument in court is also the first sex-trafficking case Brooklyn has brought to trial, and she has become emotionally involved in the case and with her 17-year-old star witness.
Burly, bald, bearded Ken Taub, chief of the homicide bureau, is working on the murder of NYPD Officer Peter Figoski, killed in the line of duty in 2011. Things have improved in Brooklyn in his 33 years, though: "Neighborhoods that I wouldn't even set foot in are now places I can't afford to live." He has, he says, "the one job in law where you get paid to do the right thing all the time."
And though we know that is not always how it works, "Brooklyn DA" is overall a brief for the righteousness of the office and its officers.
Is that enough to sway an election? I wouldn't think that Abe George has much to worry about from "Brooklyn DA" -- the whole series will be over in July, anyway, with the primary election not until September. And old-fashioned reality still has a way of trumping the TV kind.
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