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Judy Sheindlin is back — and audiences may not have had time to miss her.
In July of this year, “Judge Judy,” Sheindlin’s durable CBS-produced courtroom reality show, wrapped up. Over its 25-year run, the outspoken former family court jurist became a notably high-rated (and famously well-compensated) television personality. Airing in syndication, it was always there to be idly checked out while channel-surfing. But the show, built around Sheindlin’s confrontations with plaintiffs and defendants who annoy her in predictable, familiar manners, had such a reliable formula that no one “Judge Judy” episode stood out as different or special.
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Which makes “Judy Justice” a tricky sell. The show, but for its title and some shifts on the margins, effectively serves as the 26th season of “Judge Judy.” But it’s made to exist on streaming, as part of Amazon’s ad-supported IMDb TV platform. It’s hard to imagine anything with less viral potential than Judy Sheindlin taking someone to task: To have watched television before is to be well-acquainted with the beats of this routine. Streaming represents a test for Sheindlin and for her producers — Randy Douthit, also of “Judge Judy,” and Scott Koondel, a former CBS executive — to see if she can capture an audience excited to see what they’ve seen before.
To review Sheindlin’s act this deep into it feels like a music critic taking on “Happy Birthday to You,” or an architecture writer taking on the New York City skyline. Sheindlin is just … there. It’s perhaps worth noting that the new series gestures towards the present day by featuring a conflict between a young gig-economy worker whose anxiety was triggered when another woman came unduly close to her, prompting the first individual to call the second a “Karen.” And multiple cases involve individuals who cannot communicate due to social-media blocks. The rest of the show, though, could realistically have happened at any point in the past quarter-century. One episode features two different cases involving relatives who’ve turned on one another, a reminder that certain things — family strife, threats of physical violence, bad decisions made in love, child custody issues — are eternal. And so, too, it seems, is Sheindlin’s role as ringleader, putting herself forward as the person best qualified to shut down the nonsense while in fact endlessly egging it on. There may be some who find Sheindlin imperiously dressing down unschooled, desperate people who have fractured personal relationships in search of just a little bit of money entertaining; from a certain point of view, it’s very sad.
It’s also easy. There is, evidently, a wellspring of people willing to submit to Sheindlin’s arbitration and get on camera. These people speak out of turn to attempt to make themselves heard, the thing that most especially sends Sheindlin over the edge. Sheindlin’s umbrage at individuals squabbling over a couple of thousand dollars rankles, a bit. And it’s familiar enough — with the point that Sheindlin cannot suffer fools having been very amply made at this point — that “Judy Justice’s” existence on streaming comes to feel deeply strange.
Streamers have mastered a great deal, but they haven’t quite cracked the most rigorously formatted shows. Netflix, for example, has struck out with talk shows featuring stars as disparate as Chelsea Handler, Hasan Minhaj, and Michelle Wolf; the great streaming game show has yet to arrive. Maybe these formats thrive as part of a routine — one watches “Judge Judy” in the afternoon, “Jeopardy” in the evening, and Colbert, Fallon, or Kimmel in bed. Or maybe they’re just slightly less interesting to viewers when left to their own devices. Watched in a vacuum, “Judy Justice” is competently made, starring practiced talent and crafted by producers who know what they’re doing. Taken as a series available on a platform, and in a streaming landscape, with many more options, it’s hard to imagine picking it. The best thing that can be said for “Judy Justice” is that it is deeply unsurprising. Another interpretation of that fact might be that, despite the opportunity to take a new setting and use it to spur innovation, “Judy Justice” is just more of the same.
“Judy Justice” premieres Monday, Nov. 1, on IMDb TV.
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