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Blind Justice, “Pilot” (1.01)

White text, BLIND JUSTICE, against a black background.

The next one season wonder on the list is Blind Justice, the 2005 drama about a Detective returning to his job after a heroic accident left him blind. The pilot, written by Steven Bochco, Matt Olmstead, & Nicholas Wootton and directed by Gary Fleder, reviewed after the jump…

I caught the premiere of Blind Justice when I was fourteen years old, in the same year that Eyes vanished and a year after Wonderfalls got a raw deal. It was one of my first one season wonder obsessions, as I would periodically check over the next five years to see if I could track down the complete season. Finally, a while back, I did.

How does it hold up?

Not that well, to be honest, now that I’m a dedicated student of television. This pilot is a product of its time, 2005, before the typical one hour drama was allowed to be a little more sophisticated in its storytelling. It’s paint-by-numbers, with the procedural story playing out almost exactly as you’d expect, just with more jumps in logic. The procedural story actually falls apart if you pay it any attention, with the ‘special skill’ Dunbar bringing to the table largely seeming to be the ability to jump to conclusions based on few facts. The chemistry between leads Ron Eldard and Marisol Nichols is weak at best, with Nichols proving to be rather forgettable – though no less forgettable than the handful of faceless nobody cops that fill the precinct. Rena Sofer, who I’ve liked elsewhere, is also furniture here.

The good: Eldard does a good job with a pretty dry script, infusing those moments where it rises above the mediocrity – like his silent scene memorising the empty precinct, or challenging another cop to try and take his gun – with a degree of quiet strength. Those scenes, and the lead… are pretty much it, though there’s definitely the potential for the cast to settle in and develop some kind of chemistry.

This pilot is very reminiscent of two more recent, and much better, pilots. Almost to the point of distraction.

The central dynamic, between Eldard‘s Det. Dunbar and Nichols’ Det. Battencourt, reminds quite viscerally of that between the leads of Life, a similar show from two years later in 2007. The Eldard/Nichols dynamic is almost like a practice run for the much better one between Life‘s Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi. Both Lewis and Eldard played male cop protagonists who return to the station after a legal battle forces the police station to accept him back, dealing with distrust and doubt from every corner. Both had a quiet dignity alongside a central ‘quirk’ – for Eldard‘s Dunbar, it’s his sight loss, and for Lewis‘ Crews, its his 12 years of prison time. Meanwhile, both Marisol Nichols and Sarah Shahi play the ballsy younger female detective who are frustrated that they are stuck with the ‘dud’ cop and seriously consider asking for a transfer.

Part of the difference is the basic skill difference between the two sets. Sarah Shahi is clearly a stronger actress than Marisol Nichols, developing a much stronger impression in the same runtime. Meanwhile, Ron Eldard is much stronger than his Blind Justice partner, but he can’t hold a candle here to Damian Lewis, who was very strong on Life and would continue to blow minds with his work in Homeland. Part of it, too, is weak characters; Charlie Crews and Dani Reese of Life immediately had more depth than Dunbar and Battencourt, giving the actors more to work with. Moving into future Blind Justice episodes, I hope to see the central partnership strengthen.

The other comparison that came starkly to mind was a 2011 pilot for an American remake of British show Prime Suspect. That show was all about being a female detective in 2011 America and Maria Bello‘s Jane Timoney struggling with rampant sexism. The “cartoonish sexism”, as Alan Sepinwall called it, is mirrored here with cartoonish ableism. The things people are comfortable saying to Dunbar’s face in this script make one;s jaw drop in their lack of subtlety, and not in a good way. Because of the six years between them, Prime Suspect was allowed a little more sophistication of character and format, but these pilots are blindingly similar in that respect. On one hand, I hope they find a way to tone that down… on the other hand, considering how sparse and procedural the script was, I have to wonder if there would be a show left.

Let’s see if the show grows to a strong point by its series finale, episode thirteen. So far, it’s pretty representative of its era: procedural and mediocre.

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