Conviction: The Complete Series
When a television series hits big there are always spin offs. One of the most successful examples has been Dick Wolf’s Law & Order. Of the six variations three are doing well and are on the air. Three have fallen to the studio executives and it’s a shame, they where very good, too good to deserve cancellation. The most recent of the Wolf cancellations is Conviction. Unlike the standard Law & Order series Conviction concentrated more on the inter-personal relationships of the assistant district attorneys and how they deal on a personal level with their lives and cases. Wolf has referred to this format as ‘charactercedural’. Instead of creating another series in the same cookie cutter mold Wolf dared to change from his successful format and strike out in a new direction. Unfortunately, the studio execs failed to see this and concentrated only on the ratings and the show met an untimely demise. While I have to admit Conviction was not as strong as the other members of the franchise it never really got the chance to grow and develop properly. If you blinked your eyes and missed this series you now have a second change with the Universal release of the entire series on DVD.
Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) at one time was the ADA for the Special Victims Unit. When a hit man tried to kill her she was shipped off to a witness protection program. There is no explanation of how she was able to return given in this series but fans of SVU will remember that Cabot came out of hiding to testify against the hit man. It is reasonable to think that since the hit man and his boss are no longer a threat she moved back to New York City. Now, she has been promoted to on of the District Attorney’s Bureau Chiefs and commands her own team of lawyers. Cabot had been a trial lawyer but her new position has changed her involvement with the cases. She rarely if ever appears in court. Her job has become more managerial and much to her dismay, political. While she has made a fairly easy transition to her new role it does rub several of her staff the wrong way. Cabot is the typical young professional who finds herself now the boss over people not much younger than herself. She now has to consider the perception and ramifications of her group’s actions as well as the legalities. Although Cabot is engaged to a nice, successful man she has had a past relationship with one of her employees, Deputy District Attorney Jim Steele (Anson Mount). Cabot has a difficult time breaking off the heated affair which naturally results in conflict. Once Cabot decides to stay with her fiancé Steele becomes adversary to his former lover. Steele is just above most of Cabot’s staff. He is tough and demanding as a boss often pushing the lawyers to their limits. In the pilot episode Steele’s best friend is murdered by drug dealers. This colors his perception of the law and makes him even more distant to most. On the rebound from Cabot Steele begins a clandestine relationship with one of his employees, Jessica Rossi (Milena Govich). Jessica is from a poor and highly dysfunctional family. She is used to pushing herself to a win and does not take a loss very well. She is also the object of a crush held by another lawyer in the group, Nick Potter (Jordan Bridges). Nick is from a family best described as ‘old money’. Even though he didn’t graduate anywhere near the top of his class he managed to get a nice job in corporate law. He left that to become involved in real justice in the DA’s office. Also working in the group is Christina Finn (Julianne Nicholson). This freckled face, doe eyed young woman is bright but lacks the confidence of experience. She has eyes for her fellow worker Brian Peluso (Eric Balfour). Brian is self assured and cocky. He has a laid back attitude that hides an actual love for the law and a drive to win his cases. Finally there is Billy Desmond (J. August Richards). He is motivated by a will to win and his political aspirations. He has a long track record of wins that he prizes almost the exclusion of everything else. Even with this driving him his integrity will not allow him to comprise one iota the letter of the law.
While the premise is a good one it has been done before, remember LA Law? While the original premise of Law & Order prime was to concentrate on the crime and not the characters this is a complete reversal. The first Law & Order was able to survive and flourish with constant cast change because of this but here the cast is everything. The one fault I had with the series is the complexity of the intra-office relationships. Apparently if you are looking to work with a lot of hot co-workers in an environment rich in sex and romance you should become a Manhattan assistant district attorney. He show was like Peyton Place with law books. I felt like I needed an organization chart to keep up; the legal cases where secondary to the numerous love triangles, or more realistically put, polygons. On the plus side the writing and acting where excellent. The series showed that the people normally relegated to the second chair in the courtroom where complex human beings.
In most television dramas there is a reason not to play the boss; you get a lot less screen time than the people doing the work. This happened here to Stephanie March. She is an excellent actress with less to do than when she was on SVU. Anson Mount is great in his role as Steele. He is stoic on the outside while repressing the rage he feels over the murder of his best friend. Eric Balfour has made a nice career for himself playing the bad boy. He was the drug addict boyfriend in Six Feet Under and here he plays Peluso as a bad boy gone over to the right side of the law. Julianne Nicholson is an actress that pops up in the most unusual of films and television shows. She is excellent as the vulnerable yet determined Finn. She is able to connect with the audience immediately.
Once again Universal makes up for the cancellation of a series with potential by releasing the whole season of DVD. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is excellent, to be expected with such recent source material. The color balance is natural and realistic. The Dolby 5.1 audio is also well done although the sub woofer is mostly silent. For extras thee are profiles of the seven main characters. This is a series that had its faults but had very good potential. Even though it comes across as a soap opera the drama is captivating. Instead of watching endless reruns of the other Law & Order series get this one and enjoy a guilty pleasure.