04/01/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
ABC (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET)
Oyez, oyez, oyez. The Supreme Court is now in session on two networks. Comparisons are inevitable between this new drama and CBS's First Monday (which premiered in January) because—well, because they're basically the same show.
In the first of six scheduled episodes (March 26), Kate Nolan (Sally Field) leaves the Ohio governorship to join a high court described as a split between "bitterly entrenched liberal and conservative camps." Like the jurist Joe Mantegna plays on First Monday, Nolan will be the swing vote here. If she had a beard, they'd be tough to tell apart.
Field has some strong moments in the pilot—most notably when Nolan bristles at a senator's personal questions during her confirmation hearing—but the writers should exercise judicial restraint in exposing the main character's cute side. When a liberal justice (Diahann Carroll) talks down to her at a Washington reception, Nolan betrays impatience by chewing her lower lip. "You're doing your lip thing," her husband (Robin Thomas) whispers. That's a line straight from sitcom land.
As on First Monday, bustling young clerks debate the legal issues and TV-news talking heads add their two cents. The premiere, though, devotes far too much time to electronic journalist Harlan Brandt (Craig Bierko), a continuing character on a hunt for the "big skeleton" in Nolan's closet. His tortured metaphors and cocky attitude may impress his production assistant (Christina Hendricks), but they're almost enough to make me hope this court curtails freedom of the press.
Bottom Line: Flawed opening argument