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Sidney Lumet directs "100 Centre Street" with intelligence, humor and a rare commodity in television - respect.

TV for Grown-Ups

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Sidney Lumet's new television creation, "100 Centre Street," is an engaging, dark drama with a powerful ensemble cast headed by an impressive group of both knowns and unknowns. This is TV you can sink your teeth into. Named for the address of Manhattan's criminal courts building, the new drama on A&E stars Alan Arkin and LaTanya Richardson as judges who prove the adage that opposites attract, even platonically. Paula Devicq plays a newbie assistant district attorney, Joseph Lyle Taylor as a young - but already jaded - ADA, and Manny Perez as a hustler who is beginning his legal career as a legal aid attorney. It's a given that Lumet knows his way around the craft of storytelling. As a director, his credits include: "The Verdict," "Equus," "Network," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Serpico," "12 Angry Men" and "Fail-Safe." The last of these alone ensures his place in film history. As Barry Levinson did with "Homicide: Life on the Street," Lumet has fashioned a TV drama that eschews violence - for the most part - in favor of a more cerebral approach. Not only do his characters appear to be thoughtful, they also offer up nuggets of thought for the audience to chew on. The result is unusual programming: a series for grown-ups with brains. Arkin and Richardson are the centerpieces of "100 Centre Street." Arkin plays Joe Rifkind, a liberal judge popularly known as the bleeding-heart type. A child of the '60s who grew up to be a cop and then went to law school, he's known around the courthouse as "Let-'em-go Joe." Richardson is Attallah "Queenie" Sims, known to her peers, lawyers and defendants as Attallah the Hun. She's a tough African-American woman who came up the hard way in Georgia, raised by a single mom. Her solution is to lock 'em all up and let the Devil sort 'em out. Oddly, she and Rifkind, poles apart philosophically, are the best of friends. And as the series opened, Rifkind quickly found out he needed a friend like Sims. In episode one, Rifkind released a suspect on bond. Within hours, the man had killed a young policewoman, and Rifkind's attitude, forged in his flower-child salad days, was put to the test by today's realities. Sims stood steadfastly by him. Other characters also are facing the gut-wrenching results of decisions made on the fly. Devicq's character turned down a six-figure income from her overbearing father's prestigious law firm so she could be an ADA assigned to night court. Taylor's character is facing the nightmarish results of having tried to manipulate the system for his drugged-out brother. And Perez's character is discovering that chasing after anything in a skirt can have serious consequences for his penniless clients. Lumet paints a harsh and gritty world in "100 Centre Street," but he does so with intelligence, humor and one of the rarest commodities to be found on the tube - respect for the intelligence of his audience. "100 Centre Street" bears the hallmark of a winner.

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