Likable and with some novel twists on a well-worn procedural format, All Rise‘s pilot episode immediately makes a case for the new legal drama.
This recap of All Rise Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”, contains spoilers.
Among the judicial assistants at the Los Angeles County courthouse, attorney-turned-judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick, late of Marvel’s Luke Cage) has a nickname. It’s “the Lolacoaster”, because despite never knowing where the journey might take you, there’s a strong chance of nausea either way. CBS’s new legal procedural All Rise could be described similarly. Despite the show’s played out courtroom setting, it’s likely to surprise you; a tonal leap here, a plot swerve there, and interesting dynamics every way you turn keep things feeling surprisingly fresh. It might not be anything revolutionary, but All Rise Episode 1 does, if you’ll forgive the expression, make a case for itself.
For one thing, All Rise has a staunchly liberal attitude without any of the insufferable self-importance you might expect. Lola is both black and a woman, two things which don’t go unnoticed or unmentioned, but her fish-out-of-water appointment in a white-male-dominated space is played as though a fox has been let into the henhouse. She’s deeply empathetic, but also clever, forceful and unafraid to challenge anyone whose interpretation of the law leaves too much wiggle room, from her comically combative aide Sherri (Ruthie Ann Miles) to well-regarded LAPD detectives who lie under oath to fast-track their spotless careers. Corners are constantly trying to be cut for the sake of expedience — Sherri says that speed is the first priority, and justice is second — but Lola takes the scenic route.
Several interesting characters join her. Public defender Emily Lopez (Jessica Camacho) is strongly implied to be a victim of an abusive ex-husband — Lola helped her get a restraining order which he continues to violate — but doesn’t seem cowed by her experiences; she’s still driven and idealistic, even if she is reluctant to reciprocate the advances of Luke (J. Alex Brinson), a bailiff by day and aspiring lawyer by night. The case these two are involved with in the pilot — the defense of a pregnant woman wrongly accused of two crimes in the span of this single episode, though there’s a bit more to it than that — is also Lola’s first, a slam-dunk that she instead takes to trial when she realizes that the evidence doesn’t add up.
But more noteworthy is Lola’s entirely platonic relationship with handsome white bestie Mark (Wilson Bethel), a prosecutor up against a wily suspect who chooses to not only defend himself but put Mark on the stand to answer for his connection to his well-known crook father. His case is mostly played for laughs — the defendant has grown a fearsome Old Testament beard to disguise the fact that CCTV footage of his crime identifies him clearly — but his dynamic with Lola is played for warmth and familiarity; they’re totally believable as loyal, supportive friends without the need for any sexual tension. In fact, they both have their own relationships to deal with; Lola is married to an FBI agent, and Mark is seeing a model who continues to keep him on his toes.
Taken on their own, these aren’t necessarily new ideas. But All Rise Season 1, Episode 1 assembles them in a lively composition that feels really fresh. The pilot was well-paced and very good at teasing these characters’ backstories and dynamics — Emily’s marriage, Luke’s aspirations, Mark’s parental trouble and his not-so-secret admirer, court stenographer Sara (Lindsay Mendez) — without feeling overburdened or unfocused. The approach to LA’s downtrodden underclass helped to garner empathy without the need for tedious faux-woke theatrics, and Missick as the lead seems to be in her element, perhaps even more than she was as Marvel’s Misty Knight. There are still some tired tropes here and there, but All Rise casually sidesteps most of them, and its premiere gave plenty of good reasons why Fall audiences should approach the bench.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.