ORDER IN THE COURTS

You know you're living in a litigious country when there are seven syndicated court shows to choose from. On all these weekday programs (check local listings), real people argue their cases—without lawyers—and agree to accept the judge's decision as binding. Which courtrooms should you frequent? We're here to provide counsel.

Judith Sheindlin is the center-of-attention type, so it's fitting that she stars in the most-popular of the court shows. Now in her seventh season, Judge Judy is as brusque, imperious and egotistical as ever. "There is nobody better at making somebody who's lying look foolish," she boasted (with justification) on a recent episode. Sometimes you wish this queen of mean would get her comeuppance, but boring she will never be.

VERDICT: Harsh but effective.

Brown seems phlegmatic at the start of most cases, despite the "passion for justice" touted in the show's opening. But wait a while and he usually starts bellowing at the litigants as if on cue. You get the idea he's forcing himself to perform when he'd rather just preside.

VERDICT: We're not buying it.

Greg Mathis trades too much on his personal story as a onetime juvenile offender, but his streetwise humor enlivens the courtroom atmosphere. Cutting to the heart of one case, Mathis observed that a junkie lending money is "an oxymoron in and of itself." He lacks Supreme Court gravitas, but on this level's he's okay.

VERDICT: Do some time with him.

In the two years since she replaced Judge Judy's husband, Gerald Sheindlin, on the People's bench, Judge Marilyn Milian has struck a nice balance of wit and authority. "I must've lost my mojo," she cracked when a plaintiff called her sir. But who needs legal reporter Harvey Levin's on-the-street interviews?

VERDICT: Appealing.

Glenda Hatchett appears fair-minded and not too quick to tongue-lash litigants. Still, we wish she'd draw the line at offering them Oprah-style supportive hugs.

VERDICT: Grant her a hearing.

Larry Joe Doherty (a made-for-TV judge who's actually a Houston lawyer) has a certain folksy charm, but spare us the reaction shots of eye-rolling bailiff William Bowers.

VERDICT: Cut the clowning.

Mablean Ephriam, another lawyer in a black robe, runs these proceedings as if her judicial model were Jerry Springer.

VERDICT: Indictable.

WB (Wed., Feb. 26, 8 p.m. ET)

I can hear the brainstorming session in The WB's executive suites: "The prequel thing worked with Smallville. Now let's do a younger, sexier Lone Ranger. We'll toss the 'William Tell Overture' and replace it with loud rock." "Better yet, keep a little 'William Tell' but play it on electric guitar."

This mockable two-hour movie, conceived as the pilot for a possible series, depicts the western hero as a 20-year-old, well before he and "faithful Indian companion" Tonto had their TV adventures of the '50s. In this version Nathaniel Arcand plays Tonto as an assertive Apache who helps 19th-century law student Luke Hartman (Chad Michael Murray) gain revenge after baddies murder Luke's brother. A tribal shaman (Wes Studi) suggests that Luke don a mask to spook the villains. But when Luke makes his dashing debut as the Lone Ranger, he seems to be garbed for Mardi Gras rather than a gunfight. The best action scene comes when Luke fantasizes a hot bath with Tonto's luscious sister (Anita Brown).

BOTTOM LINE: Leave it alone

MTV (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

Fraternity Life MTV (Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET)

These half-hour series about college bonding rituals have almost everything needed for must-see reality TV: backstabbing, physical challenges (30 pushups is a lot, dude) and voting to see who gets blackballed. Only the location isn't up to Survivor standards: The University at Buffalo couldn't be less exotic. Sorority Life II (the first season aired last summer) and the new Fraternity Life are on back-to-back starting Feb. 26. That makes for 60 minutes of pettiness and peer pressure--too much for viewers who just aren't interested in the Greek system. But anyone who has pledged a fraternity or sorority (or ever contemplated it) will relate to the social anxiety on display here. And to put it all in perspective, consider the pledge who's nauseous with nervousness one minute and stuffing his face with pizza a couple of scenes later.

BOTTOM LINE: Passable slices of campus life Sorority Life II MTV (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

Fraternity Life MTV (Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET)

These half-hour series about college bonding rituals have almost everything needed for must-see reality TV: backstabbing, physical challenges (30 pushups is a lot, dude) and voting to see who gets blackballed. Only the location isn't up to Survivor standards: The University at Buffalo couldn't be less exotic.

Sorority Life II (the first season aired last summer) and the new Fraternity Life are on back-to-back starting Feb. 26. That makes for 60 minutes of pettiness and peer pressure—too much for viewers who just aren't interested in the Greek system. But anyone who has pledged a fraternity or sorority (or ever contemplated it) will relate to the social anxiety on display here. And to put it all in perspective, consider the pledge who's nauseous with nervousness one minute and stuffing his face with pizza a couple of scenes later.

BOTTOM LINE: Passable slices of campus life