Saturday, December 09, 2006

Review: The Innocence Project

Law works well on television, with its theatrical conflicts, alternation between exposition and rhetoric, rivalries, alliances and betrayals. It's not surprising that it has spawned a long line of iconic series: The Paper Chase, LA Law, Ally McBeal, Law and Order. The British roll-call is less long and distinguished: apart from Rumpole, which plays for laughs, there's what, Sutherland's Law, Crown Court, Kavanagh QC, and Judge John Deeds, which just aren't as good.

Nor is The Innocence Project. As a concept it might have worked: law lecturer helps his students hone their skills by taking on cases of alleged miscarriage of justice the professionals wouldn't touch. But the execution proved fatal (as executions do). The students were too samey, not in the way real students are samey (overweight, smoking and scruffy), but all earnest and moderately well-kempt and deeply dull (and, one might add, wooden: either they are good actors trying to sound ill-at-ease with the concept of speech, or bad ones). This needn't have proved disastrous (much the same could be said of Torchwood, which gets by on energy).

At the heart of the failure is the story-telling. The nitwits sit in the pub, or sit in a big room with a white board on which they try to puzzle out the details:
"If the cat was on the mat, then .. he ... must .. have been ... sitting"
"Omigod, the witness said he saw the victim draw his table leg and point it at the armed officer"
"Hey, maybe somebody was ... lying!"
Faced with quite simple brainteasers for these quite simple brains to unravel, tension has to be created by irritating obliqueness: so we see someone finding a file on Google - what is it? - we don't know, she just says 'yes' and prints it out, and we don't get to hear the answer until the enxt scene, where she says "I've just found this..."

But even with this, and the addition of extraneous sub-plots to show how each of the students is deeply troubled, sensitive or whatever, there isn't enough matter to fill the time. I was watching an episode without access to a clock, and when it finished I genuinely believed I had sat through a two-hour double episode, and doubted my sanity when I found out it was only 9 o'clock. The pace isn't just glacial (glacial in the global warming sense of moving backwards); every scene, every shot, is just a bit longer than necessary. Two of the team are talking as they walk through the campus; they finished their conversation and move out of shot, but the camera stays to show... nothing.

One can only conclude that the BBC decided to show the series at the moment to demostrate that Robin Hood isn't as bad as all that after all. They seem to have come to their senses, though: they are going to drop the last three episodes, presumably in favour of something better, like Eldorado.

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