“For Justice” (CBS) pilot preview: “Scandal” at the Deparment of Justice, with a “Cold Case” feel

forjustice

Written & produced by René Balcer (Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Jo). Based on James Patterson’s novel The Thomas Berryman Number. Co-produced by Robert De Niro (NYC 22), James Patterson, Jane Rosenthal, Leopoldo Gout, Berry Welsh & Bill Robins. Directed by Ava DuVernay (Selma). For CBS Television Studios, James Patterson Entertainment & Tribeca Productions. 64 pages.

Description: Natalia Chappel, an FBI agent who works in the Criminal Section of the Department of Civil Rights Division investigating crimes based on civil rights violations across the country, finds herself caught between the radical family she was born into and the professional family she has chosen…

With Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The Good Wife, Private PracticeN°1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Shawn Hatosy (SouthLAnd, Reckless), Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show, Cosby, Do No Harm), Tim Blake Nelson (Lincoln, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, O’Brother), Rachel Boston (American Dreams, Witches of East End), Leonardo NamMario Van Peebles as guest star.

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No other pilot this season resonates more with what’s happening right now in the United States than For Justice. The Ferguson scandal, the riots in Baltimore… you have inevitably heard of them in the news. Television has the responsibilty and even the duty to reflect the society we live in, not only entertain. For Justice manages to do both, somehow. I wish it were less academical, more serialized too, funnier maybe because it’s deadly serious for the most part, but for what it brings to the table in terms of debate and diversity, without being too sanctimonious, it has to go to series. CBS would be crazy to pass on the opportunity to be that relevant and it’s not like it was that different from what they are used to. It’s just smarter.

In a way, it reminded me a lot of Cold Case. It was a beautiful and important show which already dealt with some of the same subjects For Justice is tackling with great depth. Though our heroes are from the Department of Justice, the show is more a detective drama than a legal one. It’s no surprise it comes from René Balcer, used to handle this type of “two shows in one” situation, working on the Law & Order franchise over two decades. Then he did the horrible terrible disgraceful french series Jo with Jean Reno. But let’s just forget it. We all make mistakes. And we all need to eat. At the helm, Ava DuVernay was the most obvious choice since she was nominated for an Oscar this year for her movie Selma which chronicled Mathin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march starting in the city of Selma. Then, Anika Noni Rose as the lead is just the perfect choice. I always thought Shonda Rhimes would give her a show after her guest stint on Private Practice. Maybe she was offered How To Get Away With Murder? Anyway, you probably don’t know her but she’s just fantastic. If the show goes to series, I wouln’t be surprised she gets a nomatination at the next Emmy Awards & Golden Globes. That’s how good she is.

It’s through her character that there’s a Scandal feel to the show. Natalia Chappel is like Olivia Pope: she’s a hard-working woman, smarter than everybody she encounters, who always finds the right words to express whatever she wanna say to whoever she wants to convince. Her personal story is not that different either. Her relationship with her father is highly complicated: she haven’t seen him for decades, since he left for Cuba after being an active member in a Ku Kux Klan-like organization. And he’s back in the pilot! So, of course, it means something for her to be part of the Civil Rights Division of the Government. And her colleagues all have their very own personal reasons too, especially her new partner Jess Kearney (Shawn Hatosy). In terms of rhythm, it has nothing to do with Scandal, though. The first investigation tells the story of a small town’s police officer who is suspected to have killed the new -Black- mayor and covered it as a hate crime. It’s totally inspired by Ferguson. The exciting stuff is coming from the serialized part of the show, linked to Natalie Chappel. She is the target of terrorist threats and someone they’re not able to locate sends her menacing texts. A game of cat and mouse is starting and it probably has everything to do with her father and the Klan…

With its strong female perspective, For Justice would be the perfect bridge between political Madam Secretary and legal The Good Wife on “prestige Sunday nights”, without forgetting cult news magazine 60 Minutes is broadcasted earlier in the evening. It’s old-skewing but it doesn’t seem to be that big of a problem for CBS, at least there. I don’t know how many seasons they can make out of it but civil rights violations can be of all sorts. Give it a series order CBS, for justice.

2 comments

  1. steve wenders says:

    I agree that For Justice is timely and needs to be picked up. But it would be nice if the facts in your article were correct: i.e. Ava Duvernay was not nominated for an Oscar; Natalia Chappell’s father did not belong to a KKK-like organization, he belonged to a radical leftist Black panther/Symbionese Liberation Army type of organization (it is her boss Ochs Rainey who comes from a Klan family); and Jo, Balcer’s English-Language series shot in Paris, was not horrible/terrible/shameful – don’t watch the Hulu version (the version shown in France/Germany/Belgium), watch the version that was shown everywhere else in the world, a much darker, brooding show.

    • Lulla says:

      Oh yes, it was not an Oscar but a Golden Globe. Thanks.
      (Regarding “Jo”, I don’t think any version can make it better or at least remotely interesting)

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