Style of CBS' new legal drama is old hat

Network sets show in the year 2030, but program uses vintage formula


March 16, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Afather arrested for trying to bring a clone of his 7-year-old son into the United States. A young man charged with breaking into his ex-girlfriend's apartment and stealing her nano-pants. A woman accused of intellectual property theft because she downloaded the best parts of her boyfriend's personality into all her personal computers and then threw him out.

These are the defendants, plaintiffs and issues in Century City, a new CBS legal drama set in the year 2030. Think L.A. Law and then add a half-century and you pretty much have it. Instead of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, it's Crane, Constable, McNeil and Montero.

The problem is that, while the issues are in some ways new, the style of TV storytelling is old, old hat. And prime-time audiences aren't going for that anymore in the wake of cable TV dramas that consistently push the envelope and reality TV programs that bring a sense of immediacy and unpredictability (no matter how artificial) to the viewing experience.

There is nothing terribly wrong with Century City. Created by Paul Attanasio (who wrote the pilot for Homicide: Life on the Street) and Ed Zuckerman (Law & Order), the show's writing is solid. With a cast that includes Hector Elizondo, Viola Davis, Ioan Gruffudd and Kristin Lehman, the acting is OK, too. But the formula is simply worn out, and the futuristic legal issues explored in the first two episodes are not inventive enough to re-energize it.

The pilot features David Paymer as the father of a boy who desperately needs a liver transplant. His solution is to go outside the United States and have the boy cloned to eventually get a liver from the cloned embryo that's a genetic match. But the boy's father is arrested when he tries to bring the clone into the United States through customs.

Lukas Gold (Gruffudd), a young and idealistic associate, urges the firm to take the case to help the sick boy get his transplant - as well as possibly changing the law on cloning. A lighter, secondary story line involves a lawsuit among members of a rock group because one of them has allowed himself to age naturally and actually looks all of his 70 years. It's Dorian Gray vs. Mick Jagger.

Episode two is the one with the nano-pants and a women telling her former lover in a big dramatic scene, "I want the real you - not just the download."

I can think of a half-dozen online downloads that I'd rather watch than Century City. That's the multimedia present that networks like CBS should be trying to combat with new ways of TV storytelling.

Century City

When: Tonight at 9.

Where: WJZ (Channel 13)

In brief: Futuristic legal drama with nothing new to say.

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