19 March 2006 | jshoaf
The best lack all conviction: Existential TV, maybe?
I was impressed by this show, of which I've seen two episodes. The theme seems to be that the pace of life and of crime today is so fast that one can no longer seek truth or justice--one must just keep doing what one is doing and perhaps try to be kind to those who can't keep up.
The classic crime show follows the track laid down by Sherlock Holmes and beloved of all mystery readers: the Good Guys are the recurring characters, and they are completely dedicated to Justice, and in each episode/story they track down Bad Guys who have violated the law or morality in some way and try to see that the legal system punishes the Bad Guys for what they have done. Maybe sometimes it turns out that there is no crime actually committed--no Bad Guy this time; maybe sometimes the Bad Guy turns out to be sympathetic and virtuous; sometimes legal system is unable to follow through. But all these conflicts are registered for us through the wisdom of the Good Guys, who represent the desire for Truth and Justice.
In Conviction, the protagonists are not in fact particularly Good Guys. The head of the group of DAs, Cabot, will bend truth, justice, and/or the law to obtain a desirable conviction, and clearly gets a personal thrill not out of Truth or Justice but out of Winning. In another show, she would be shown up as stupid or incompetent, but here she is the smartest and most competent person around. The assistant DAs who make up most of the cast could be divided between those who will bend the law to protect themselves and those who are naively committed to some version of Justice--except that the law-benders have consciences and the committed ones find themselves compromising, and compromised too. Winning a case can be worse than losing one, even if Justice is served for a few minutes in the courtroom. What's more, in some cases even we the audience don't get to know the truth about a case--all we get to know is what the DA knows, and that may not be conclusive.
It is really impressive to have such a large cast, each member with a case, all moving around, bumping into each other, often lying to each other, in one episode. The plot is just a pattern glimpsed in chaos. There is no illusion that when one case ends, the DAs can sit down and congratulate each other; more crime is out there, other cases are bubbling up as the criminals and victims of the preceding one sink into the background. I feel that this could be a very truthful and moral show, precisely because it does not comfort one with the triumph of Truth and Virtue.