FOR THE 21ST CENTURY?
By Paul Bergman
In a companion essay on
the new TV lawyer drama, Century City, Michael Asimow
likens the show to L. A. Law. However, the March 2004
premiere episode suggests that with a bit of watering, Century
City's roots can stretch all the way back to The Defenders.
Like that classic TV show that ran from 1961-1965, Century
City seems interested in working through the legal ramifications
of important social issues. If the show is willing to trust its
audience to care about those issues at least as much as it does
the sex lives of the lawyers of the law firm of Crane, Constable,
McNeil & Montero, the show may run long enough for some of
its associates to become partners.
In the initial episode, idealistic new associate Lukas Gold persuades
the firm to represent a father charged with illegally bringing
a cloned embryo of his son into the country. The son has a fatal
liver disease, and the father can save his son's life by taking
the clone's liver and transplanting it into his son. (The show
is set futuristically in 2030, a time when cloning-on-demand
may be technologically possible but not yet legally acceptable.)
The father admits that he committed a crime, but asks Lukas and
the firm to free the seized clone so he can go forward with the
Watching capable lawyers battle over a public policy issue as
important as cloning was refreshing in an era when lawyer shows
tend to resemble either soap operas or paperback mysteries. At
the same time, I wanted to know much more about the legal ramifications
of cloning than Century City told me. For example, if
the father admittedly committed a crime by attempting to bring
the clone into the country, on what basis can he get it back?
After all, a person caught trying to transport illegal drugs
across the border doesn't get the drugs back. Century City
pays lip service to this issue, but the explanation was not very
satisfactory. Equally unsatisfactory is Lukas' argument that
while it may be OK for the government to prevent cloning, the
father should get this clone back because the cloning already
took place. The power of legal dramas is their ability to personalize
and therefore make viewers care about otherwise abstract legal
issues. They can use this power both to educate and entertain,
but only if they develop competing legal arguments in more depth
than I saw in Century City's opening episode.
Thus, Century City does indeed have promise. For me, that
promise will be fulfilled only if the show is willing to trust
to its viewers' intelligence, roll up its sleeves and really
grapple with legal issues. If it can accomplish that, the only
disappointed members of the viewing audience may be today's law
students. They'll see that law firm life in 2030 is as pressurized
and demanding of one's time as it is here in 2004.
Posted April 1, 2004