Hearing that a show has tinkered with and recast a pilot can mean welcome wholesale changes — or stuffing ballast into a sinking ship.
The new NBC comedy “Bad Judge” falls into the latter category.
LA judge Rebecca Wright (Kate Walsh) is the latest entrant into the “talented professional who is a hot mess personally” canon of TV characters. If this wasn’t obvious from the opening montage — in which we meet Wright hung over, face down in sparkly underwear as she is thrown into an aspirin and pregnancy-test panic when she wakes up late for work — it is underscored by several other characters, one of whom refers to her as “Little Miss Train Wreck.”
The original pilot sent to critics in the summer hit several icebergs. The rearrangement of the deck chairs — including the jettisoning of two subplots that proved Wright was also a bad friend and bad mentor — in the rejiggered version, premiering Thursday at 9 p.m., does not keep the show afloat.
“Bad Judge” is also the second NBC show this fall to waste a great actress in a starring role, following “The Mysteries of Laura” with Debra Messing.
Like Messing before her, Walsh is game for trying to clean up the mess that’s been handed to her — in part by producers Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and Anne Heche — throwing herself, with appropriate snark, sincerity, or slovenliness, headlong into Wright’s wrongs. These include, but aren’t limited to: abuse of her power, having quickies in her chambers (without locking the door), parking in a handicapped space and then pretending to limp when she sees a man in a wheelchair, and smugly handing out annoyingly goofy sentences. (She forces a bigamist to take feminism courses while wearing an “I’m a Convicted Bigamist” T-shirt.) She does all this while scarfing down junk food, drinking too much, and tooling around in a terrifically awful panel van.
In the second episode, things go from “Bad” to worse. We’re supposed to have sympathy for her messiness, as the show draws parallels between Wright and an emotionally wounded, attention-seeking, Lohan-esque paparazzi magnet. It may be accurate that she is damaged
and medicating her pain with booze — and pot brownies — and keeping potential Mr. (W)Rights at arm’s length because she’s afraid to be vulnerable, but it’s just not funny.
Perhaps if she were the protagonist of a gritty FX or HBO drama, this might all seem interesting or colorful, but on a light NBC comedy it’s off-putting, especially since we are also supposed to buy how committed she is to caring for others and to justice.
Walsh’s gifts — put to great use recently on “Fargo” — aren’t the only ones going to waste. Ryan Hansen (the charmingly loathsome Dick Casablancas of “Veronica Mars”) as an expert medical witness and the judge’s booty-call-who-wants-more, and Ryan McPartlin (the most excellent Captain Awesome from “Chuck”) as a dim-witted fireman, are given little to work with.
No matter what the crime, no TV viewer should be sentenced to watch “Bad Judge.”