Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

Taunya Lovell Banks
is Jacob A. France Professor of Equality Jurisprudence, University of Maryland School of Law



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If Century City continues to rely more on futuristic technological gimmicks rather than hard hitting story lines, I suggest you tune in to The D.A. instead.

Feature article

Twenty-Five Years in the Future: Is Century City More of the Same, and If So, Is that Bad?

by Taunya Lovell Banks

Perhaps the only thing really new in CBS's latest entry in the lawyer drama genre is its setting twenty-five years in the future. Some things have changed in Los Angeles 25 years in the future, blurring legal boundaries (who is human and who is not; what constitutes rape) - real futuristic ethical issues. Yet other things remain the same. Law firms function in essentially the same way and lawyer clothing seems virtually unchanged. To remind us that we are in the future there is the occasional high-resolution holographic projection, paper thin computer screen and seedless fruit. Nevertheless, courtroom tricks are what keep lawyer series popular, and which may ultimately determine whether this series survives the season.

Century City is populated with many old lawyer stereotypes, some in new clothing. The law firm of Crane, Constable, McNeil, & Montero has a former prosecutor, Lukas Gold (played by Ioan Gruffudd), who CBS describes as an "earnest, self critical" associate trapped in an early marriage. Next there is the slimy sexual harassing but brilliant litigating partner Darwin Mc Neill (played by Eric Schaeffer but not as deliciously as James Spader in The Practice). In a slight twist, the intellectual blonde female first year associate, Lee May Bristol (played by Kristen Lehman), is beautiful, genetically enhanced and sterile, an interesting combination that also says a lot about technological imperfections. Evidentially Lee May had a summer fling with Lukas leaving a lot of unresolved sexual tension and a door open for in-house romance.

In an interesting bit of casting Latino Hector Elizondo plays an Anglo lawyer, Marty Constable, the grey-haired balding experienced partner brought back into the fold after bouts with alcohol and too many young blonde wives. Crane, Constable, McNeil, & Montero also has two non-white law partners. Nestor Carbonell, whose father is Cuban, plays the Mexican American partner Tom Montero. Montero is no traditional Mexican American stereotype. He is an assimilated upper middle class Ivy League educated Mexican American and a former congressman, who is the firm's chief rainmaker. There are people like Montero in the real world, so it should be no surprise that they finally appear on the television in the world of 2030. More significantly, Montero's Stanford Law School classmate, Hannah Crane (played by Viola Davis), a black woman, is the founding partner. Unlike many non-whites portrayed on television today, Montero and Crane, the daughter of an old civil rights lawyer, are well educated children of professional parents - much like what we would expect of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable's adult grandchildren in 2030.

Unfortunately, Crane does not see much real lawyer action in the first episode. One hopes that she is more than a mother figure. All Crane seems to do is look weary like Eugene Young (Steve Harris) on The Practice now that he is the senior partner. Also notable in the first episode is the special guest appearance by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's B.D. Wong. Wong plays U.S. Attorney Matthew Chin. Other than Lucy Liu on the now defunct Ally McBeal, Asian lawyers are rarities on television lawyer shows. Wong represents the government in a case involving a confiscated "pre" embryo. The law firm represents the father (David Paymer), a widower whose dying 7-year-old son was born with a defective liver. The father clones his son's cells to develop a baby who could donate a portion of its liver to save the son. We learn that cloning now is illegal in the United States. So the father smuggles the cloned cells into the United States from Singapore, where cloning is legal, but his future embryo is confiscated at customs. Now he is suing for its return.

We later learn that the son is a clone of the father - making the child and father brothers, and the child's grandparents, his biological parents. This plot line sounds like something leftover from Ally McBeal. The father's liver is not compatible because he contracted hepatitis as a teen. If this plot is suppose to be futuristic then the creators of Century City need to get a new science advisor. Given the work being done today on organ regeneration and growth, it is highly unlikely that someone in 2030 would need to clone a person to get a liver for transplantation. But then the story would be less compelling if the writers stuck closer to reality. There were other misconceptions about the science of cloning and stem cells, but they can be overlooked as artistic license, after all, this is entertainment television.

The other case in the first episode is also Ally McBeal like. It involves an old rocker (Anthony Zerbe) who refused to undergo plastic surgery and take experimental drugs to stay young. He is suing other members of the rock band, all in the 60s and 70s, for refusing to let him join them on their road show. The Firm represents the band members. When a youthful looking 70ish band member dies of a stroke, the band ultimately reunites at the funeral where the old rocker dances around like a twenty-year-old, obviously the work of a body double.

At best Century City is a less slick version of L.A. Law set twenty-five years in the future. At its worse, the show is a serious version of Ally McBeal with some of its silliness. If Century City continues to rely more on futuristic technological gimmicks rather than hard hitting story lines, I suggest you tune in to The D.A. instead. Although this show lacks Century City's racial and gender diversity, the story lines seems to carry more punch.

There may be hope, however. The second episode of Century City involved what the lawyers called a virtual rape. The male partner of the woman was given something that allowed a third-party to feel all the sensations of the male partner during sexual intercourse with the woman. The third-party could replay this sensation over and over. The legal question raised was more challenging, was the action a privacy issue, rape or neither, especially if the male partner consented? This plotline seemed a more realistic example of the kinds of legal problems future technological advances might present.

In a later unaired episode parents choose to have the "gay gene" removed from their child, thus eliminating homosexuals. This action raises many interesting questions. If parents chose to make their children heterosexuals to make life easier, would parents do the same for race? The same consequences would occur if the genes that control race are modified. Thus one wonders whether racial differences would persist in the near future. After all, the parents in film Gattaca chose "white" as the racial designation for their genetically enhanced embryo. It will be interesting to see how Century City handles this issue.

Posted April 7, 2004

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