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Michael Vecchione and Lawrence Oh, two of the attorneys on Brooklyn DA (Source: CBS)
Michael Vecchione and Lawrence Oh, two of the attorneys on Brooklyn DA (Source: CBS)

Brooklyn DA: Tuesdays at 10pm Eastern on CBS

It’s not every day you hear about a new TV show being stuck in some real political wrangling. However, CBS’s latest Tuesday night reality offering ended up being the victim of such a case with its’ new show Brooklyn DA which only finally was cleared to air earlier today when a political rival tried to get it delayed until after a political primary amid concerns that the show would basically turn into a multi-million dollar campaign ad for his opponent (district attorneys are elected by the general public in New York State).

Brooklyn DA follows the attorneys office of Charles Hynes, the real life lawyer in the titular role and his assistants as they piece together cases for real-life crimes. The six part series also looks into the professional and personal lives of many of the special assistants whom work in the office as they struggle to piece together high profile cases.

We open with Lawrence Oh, who’s in a local deli where he’s picking up food on the way to work. Mr. Oh is investigating a theft of three pieces of fine art and is looking to set up a sting for his proposed suspect. We then meet Kathryn Collins, an assistant DA who deals with human trafficking and is looking to put a pimp behind bars. Ken Taub handles our episodes third case: the murder of a Brooklyn police officer in the line of duty.

For a documentary, it’s an incredibly slickly shot show, with large amounts of stylish graphical packages (especially in transitions), inventive editing juxtapositions, and a staggeringly high number of camera angles. These are particularly notable in the places where they couldn’t actually send cameras, such as when they couldn’t bring cameras into the courtroom for the plaintiff’s testimony, leading to a composite shot of our plaintiff and Kathleen, while cross examination gave us a composite of the plaintiff and the defendant’s attorney.

One thing I was somewhat surprised about was that the show did not ever really delve deeply into the lives of its’ featured attorneys (whether or not the featured attorneys appear on every show is yet to be known, CBS was fairly mum about the exact details of the show). We get a couple of short segments of Lawrence talking about his love for food and that he’s forced to eat in the office (one of these segments involves him doing so) and a very brief mention of Catherine’s husband.

However, for all of the technical wizardry, I question the degree to which the producers drag the victims of these crimes through. While it can at least somewhat justified to have the family of the fallen police officer talk a little about their father, I felt completely uncomfortable about the fact that the victim of a sexual assault (and to a lesser degree human trafficking) was very heavily featured with no pixelation or voice alteration or name alteration. While in this instance the offender might be a small-time criminal, it seems very odd that you would open up a victim for potential retaliation on prime time national TV. This is even worse when you consider that the show is produced under the guise of the news department, whom typically have used some or all of these protection methods for years.

As for the other ethical question? Simply put, while the show seems pretty clearly within the law (Hynes doesn’t appear in the first episode, but a fairly controversial surrogate is prominent), I can also understand why the opposition would have their gripes. The fact of the matter is, politicians have sued for less and anything other than a perfectly neutral and unbiased portrayal could potentially swing an election with a megaphone that large. What makes this worse is that while the timing seems least important from a network TV perspective, it’s salient a little too close to the primary (the series will end in July, the primary in question is in September) for anyone to claim that this show won’t potentially swing a pivotal local election in the form of airtime that would run in value about the same as a full campaign for a high-end U.S. Senate election. Luckily, we’re one episode in with one big mistake and a second one illustrated in the preview for our second show so hopefully Brooklyn DA stays a fairly evenhanded portrayal.

The Final Verdict: Brooklyn DA tries to have the slickness of a drama while operating under the guise of reality. What we get instead is a show that seems pretty devoid of both, with a whole slew of other ethical questions as the cherry to this non-sundae. In a lot of ways, you get the vibe that CBS was looking for a less expensive reality analogue to it’s crime drama heavy Tuesday lineup. Skip this and toss on a rerun of Law and Order if you’re looking for some courtroom drama.