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"First Monday" is a predictable look inside the workings of the Supreme Court.

Contempt of Court


"If only" is a silly game to play.

"If only frogs had wings, they wouldn't bump their little butts every time they jump."

See what I mean?

But if only Aaron Sorkin instead of Donald P. Bellisario had created "First Monday," the new series might be worth watching.

Sorkin, as you may know, is the creator of "The West Wing," which most everybody agrees is the best show about the inner workings of the White House ever to air on TV. They've been throwing Emmys at it ever since it debuted.

Bellisario has a couple of hits under his belt, too — "Quantum Leap" and "JAG," to name the two that spring most readily to mind.

But Bellisario is no Sorkin: He's neither as politically savvy nor as much of a thinker as Sorkin is.

So, if only Sorkin had created "First Monday," which is about the inner workings of the U.S. Supreme Court, it might be worth an hour of your time each week. There's no doubt that there's plenty of potential there for dramatic and intellectual stimulation. But Bellisario isn't up to the challenge: In his hands, the Supreme Court is merely a vehicle for predictable and fairly trite conflict designed to amuse and titillate. Oh, you might get a whiff of a hint of an innuendo about how the highest court in the land really functions, but that's about as far as it goes.

Watch the first 15 minutes of any episode and you can almost write the rest of it yourself.

What's surprising about "First Monday" is the strength of the cast Bellisario managed to assemble, given the nature of the scripts he's been handing them. Emmy-winner James Garner plays the conservative chief justice, with Charles Durning as his close ally on the bench and Joe Mantegna as the court's newest associate justice.

The first two episodes of "First Monday" prove my point. In his first big case, Mantegna's character had to decide whether to grant a stay of execution for a juvenile death-row inmate. But instead of examining the issue thoughtfully, "First Monday" wasted its potential by pulling a rabbit out of a hat to provide a conclusion. In the second episode, the series missed a chance to examine the issue of parental consent and abortion. Instead, what we got was another cop-out designed to please everyone — and no one.

If only … but what's the use. "If only" presumes a condition contrary to fact, and the fact is that frogs don't have wings, and Sorkin didn't create "First Monday." Bellisario did. And more's the pity.

"First Monday" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS-TV.

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