Wilson Bethel sees a lot of “The West Wing” in his new series, CBS’ legal show “All Rise.”
“We’re fast-paced, but most importantly we’re not shying away from contemporary, political cultural issues,” the “Hart of Dixie” alum told the Daily News. “We also don’t shy away from a walk and talk.”
The comparison is a bit of a stretch but “All Rise” takes the same optimistic, perhaps naive approach to its story as Aaron Sorkin does: a Los Angeles legal drama told from the perspective of judges, prosecutors, public defenders and more. We’ve seen it before, a TV show that swears, this time, to show how and where the justice system fails and to promise that there’s better out there.
“This feels really fresh, largely because of the nuance and the light touch that writers are taking,” Wilson Bethel (“Hart of Dixie”), who plays attorney Mark Callan, told the Daily News. “We’re not just not shying away from the complexity of these issues, but we’re doing it in a way that embraces it with intelligence and integrity and humor when that’s appropriate.”
“All Rise” gets the big-picture stuff right: its cast, and thus its legal system, is diverse; Bethel, in fact, is the only white male lead. The drug dealers aren’t exclusively Hispanic. Not everyone can afford their bail.
“We’re very aware of the media and cultural tropes associated with certain groups that live in Los Angeles,” showrunner Greg Spottiswood told The News. “How do we tell the truth without perpetuating certain ideas or biases just because it’s an easier trope to go with?”
For Simone Missick (“Luke Cage”), who plays newly appointed Judge Lola Carmichael, the trick is showing the balance of work and play that so few women of color get the chance to do on TV.
“What makes a person get to this place, this point, in her career of successful prosecuting without managing to be jaded or completely give up on the possibility of justice? Then add on all of the expectations of, you have to be this many times smarter, work this many times harder, that kind of pressure that comes from being a black woman in America,” Missick told The News. “You talk to any successful black woman...and they feel as if there was never the opportunity or leeway to fail.”
Bethel is refreshingly aware of his role as the only white man in the main cast.
“When you’re telling a story like this, it needs to be representative,” he told The News.
For “All Rise,” that’s not just in front of the camera either. The writers room, the crew, even the hair and makeup artists — much to Missick’s surprise and delight — are all diverse. It’s intentional on Spottiswood’s part, but he also knows that it’s necessary.
“A big, big part of what we want to do is represent on screen in terms of the narrative and stories we’re telling, but also who’s telling them in terms of actors and writers,” he told The News.
Those stories vary case by case, but the crime is rarely the most important aspect of the episode.
“It’s about taking a moment and saying, ‘what is it that I can do as an individual, as an American citizen, to not just be OK with the way we sentence innocent people,’” Missick told The News. “It doesn’t take rewriting the constitution to do it. It takes us as citizens to say, ‘this isn’t right.’”
“All Rise” premieres Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. on CBS.