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‘Bad Judge’ Pilot Review: Bad, Did You Hear Me? She’s Bad!

Bad Judge is not so much bad as it is forcibly adhering to a plot that calls for its judge to be bad.

NBC’s newest legal comedy Bad Judge stars Kate Walsh (Private Practice) as Judge Rebecca Wright. Rounding out the cast are Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars), John Ducey (Jonas), Tone Bell (Whitney), and Miguel Sandoval (Medium).

Listen, if NBC wants to give Kate Walsh half an hour per week to be unapologetically great, then I’m here for it. What I’m not so interested in is Bad Judge screaming at me, through its other characters that she interacts with, that Walsh’s bad judge is BAD! Bad, did you hear me? She’s bad! She comes to work hungover, eats junk food, and has sex in her office! But don’t judge her and her Gina-from-Brooklyn Nine-Nine-esque van too harshly, because she’s also secretly a good person underneath those short shorts and giant headphones.

It was almost painful how many characters were used to tell us what a mess Rebecca is, and how careless she seems to be – but in reality, she has a heart of gold. Yes, she’s bad, because, well, you know, you read the title, but she’s also secretly a nice lady, too.

In the original pilot, Robby the foster kid, whose parents Rebecca sentenced to jail, ends up living with her. But in the reworking, he’s been reduced to a role where Rebecca keeps him from moving to a worse group home, and it’s unclear if he’ll be back. This leaves a bit of a hole in the original plot, and means that the pilot is messy – more so than intended – because of it.

But Bad Judge is fun, mostly because Kate Walsh could deliver anything and make it work. But it is hard to get a grasp on a character that the show celebrates, but also wants to evolve, but oh yeah, no, wait, she already secretly is the better person that she apparently needs to be…

Bad Judge is messy, but only because it keeps trying to tell everyone, repeatedly, that Rebecca is a mess. Ideally, Rebecca isn’t forced to take too many life lessons, because I can so easily see her being an incredibly interesting character – brash, independent, and always, frustratingly right. The writing just has to catch up to something that they’ve already captured the essence of.

Bad Judge isn’t bad, per se, but just sticking a little too hard to its premise. It all depends on where the show goes from here. I hope it improves because of how great Kate Walsh is in a comedic role, but I just don’t know if the predominantly male supporting cast around her is ready to turn this sitcom into something good, or, indeed, if Rebecca will even be allowed to stay the way that she is now. I fear that she’ll continue to be branded with the labels that she’s been given – bad, but with a heart of gold underneath it all, and that she’ll be taught to ditch the former for the latter.

Kate Walsh is great, and her character could be, too. Everyone else just needs to catch up.