Show of the Day: Century City

23 Sep

I referenced this show in an earlier post about Nestor Carbonell, but since I find the concept so intriguing I wanted to spend some more time on it.  Started in 2004, the show starred Carbonell, Hector Elizondo, Viola Davis, and Eric Schaeffer as law firm partners and Ioan Guffudd (who I can tell without even looking it up is Welsh) and Kristin Lehman as associates.

The premise is this.  In 2030, in Los Angeles, the law firm of Crane, Constable, McNeil and Montero deals with all manner of law cases which come up, all of which involve questions which wouldn’t exist in our present, largely due to technology that doesn’t exist yet.  Some of these issues hit upon what would clearly be hot button political issues, while some of them are more light-hearted.  I’ll break down the issues in the pilot below, but issues that come up later on include virtual rape (I honestly don’t know exactly what this is without having watched the episode yet), whether baseball players can use mechanical eyes to improve their vision, a woman fighting for possession of her dead husband’s computerized likeness, and the gay gene.

The lawyers fit different roles.  Davis is the no-nonsense skeptical of pro bono work lawyer, while Elizondo is the wise beyond his years tells-random-stories-and-calls-it-advice senior partner.  Carbonell is a former politician who doesn’t really understand the law but knows how to read people while Schaffer is the skeevy sexually harassing lawyer obsessed with his self image.

The idea of the show is genius for many reasons.  For one, let all the existing law shows crowd around the existing legal issues.  Sure, there’s a lot, but they’re still bound to repeat with so many shows and so many episodes. Century City is the only show that can tackle the tough issues that don’t even exist yet.  Second, the license for creativity is infinite.  Most law shows aren’t truly bound to a high level of accuracy, but they at least generally feel like they have to try and pretend. Century Citycan claim that laws have changed, the legal system has changed, and precedents have changed any way they find convenient for drama.  Third, you get both a science fiction and a legal procedural audience with one fell swoop.

I decided to rewatch the first episode, which is on Hulu, to assemble some thoughts.  This episode deals with two main legal cases.  The first is about cloning, a hot button issue in any time.  A client played by David Paymer comes to the firm asking them to represent him, as he’s trying to obtain from the government a cloned fetus that was taken from him at customs.  He had it cloned in Singapore, where cloning is legal, as everyone knows, but tried to take it to the US, where cloning is banned.  He had the clone created from his son because he needed a liver transplant to save his son, whose liver was failing.  This would be created, so the science goes, by either taking the fetus to term and having a new kid, and taking half the liver for his son, or by somehow making it so the fetus just creates a liver.  The firm argues the case against a US attorney played by BD Wong.  Though it looks bad for a time, when it’s discovered that the son itself is just a clone of Paymer, an extremely moving speech by the Crane lawyer saves the day and sways the jury, leading the government to settle to save face.

The second, lighter case, involves a contract made by an aging rock group.  Three of the members have used future surgery and medical techniques to keep them looking young, but the fourth, the lead singer, has decided to revert to looking his age, which is 70.  The three want the fourth to take the pills and look young, and claim it’s part of a contract they all signed, but the old-looking lead singer, who the firm represents, disagrees.  They go back and forth, fighting, and disagreeing, until towards the end of the episode, one of the younger looking members, really 72, dies of a stroke.  At the funeral, the two younger looking members left go up to perform their hit song, allegedly from the early ‘80s, and in a warm moment, the old looking lead singer is finally persuaded to join them by the lawyer, after which the plot isn’t exactly resolved any further.

There are several tips towards the future, aside from merely the topics of law.  First, summary judgment motions don’t require actually entering a court room.  They can be conducted via hologram in the hologram room that every respectable law firm in the future has.  The judge even makes a joke about appearing upside down in hologram-form.  Cherries now don’t have pits, Elizondo notes – perhaps the greatest invention of the 21st century!  He’s even old enough to remember when grapes still had seeds.  Kristin Lehman’s character we learn is part of a cloning project (the “genetic prototype project” to be technical”) in which specially designed humans were let into society to see if they could fit in properly; she has a short identity crisis moment in the episode.  An offhand reference is tossed out to a happy patch people can take to stay happy, though it could just mean drugs.

Unfortunately the show lasted a mere nine episodes.  If this had been a success, would this be the wave of the future?  Shows about typical television professions in the future?  I could easily imagine a doctors of the future or a cops of the future.  Sure, there have been future cop shows, but 90% of these involve time travel.  What about future cop shows they just deal with new types of crime and non-time travel techniques.  What about a primetime television soap or a coming of age high school drama set in the future?  One can only imagine sadly.

2 Responses to “Show of the Day: Century City”

  1. Beardface September 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    This show sounds interesting! That Welsh guy plays the husband on Ringer!


  1. The Zeljko Ivanek Hall of Fame: Kristin Lehman « Television, the Drug of the Nation - October 19, 2011

    […] and an episode of the new Twilight Zone before getting another chance to star in TVTDOTN favorite Century City.  She played Lee May Bristol, a lawyer who was also part of a special project to allow certain […]

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