This episode feels more like the first episode post-pilot rather than first episode post-second season premiere. They’re leaning into the social distancing more, but also less masks and more spit shields so you can see the actors acting. And the show’s seemingly more committed to its 2020 direction, with J. Alex Brinson somehow all of a sudden becoming a far better character in his new role as D.A. office flunky. It’s Kimberly A. Harrison’s script. Harrison has some great stuff in the episode, either for lead Simone Missick or, as it turns out, Brinson.
Everyone else has okay enough material—Lindsay Mendez seems to have lost her season two subplot already and is now playing wing-woman to newly virtual dating Marg Helgenberger (the show also brings in Peter MacNichol to make a joke about fifty-somethings e-dating)—but it’s almost like Missick went to the writers room and told them she’d like an Emmy nomination. She’s got some great scenes this episode, even if all the hard questions about racism and good white people end in non sequiturs (most jarringly with Helgenberger but also with Wilson Bethel).
Bethel doesn’t get to have his arc, which is the point, as he’s centering everything about the episode’s big case around himself. Brinson gets the scene telling Bethel what he’s doing—trying to use this case against a racist high schooler attacking protestors with a baseball bat for not being white to be a better white friend to Missick—and it’s a good scene. Harrison writes the hell out of it, Brinson acts the hell out of it.
Harrison had foreshadowed it—not least of all because it seems like Bethel’s FoxNews Blonde girlfriend Lindsey Gort is probably a MAGA Karen underneath it all—another big change in this episode is “All Rise” just pointing out most white people are either actively racist or complicit in it. Hopefully that change’ll stick. Or maybe they could hire better white ladies—the two new regular ones, Gort and Audrey Corsa—are super-bland.
The courtroom judgement scene where Missick has to figure it all out is pretty good and it certainly seems like this new season is just going to be about Missick’s disillusionment with the American “justice” system, which is a legit goal but it’s also CBS so we’ll see.
Some good performances in the supporting cast—Robyn Lively gets the redemptive terrible white parent arc, which is good since Joel Gretsch is one-note as the blandly racist and generally obtuse surfer dad. Samantha Marie Ware is very “eh” as the law clerk, though the writing on the character isn’t any better.
Guest star Ryan Michelle Bathe continues to be one of the show’s primary assets but she’s a guest star and they’ve promoted much lesser characters (with much lesser performers) to regular. “All Rise” seems to have found its—inevitably problematic—niche. It’s definitely more compelling this year. But also de facto a lot more exploitative. In that CBS night-time drama way.