Occasionally "Judging Amy," a new CBS drama series, rises to heights that actually are dramatic. But mostly it just simmers sleepily, a bland and timid concoction straight from the TV equivalent of the supermarket shelf.
The soar points, such as they are, occur when Tyne Daly pops in to steal the show from its nominal and minimal star, Amy Brenneman, one of those actors who seem to be 98 percent hair--with the hair doing most of the acting. Daly plays Amy's mother, a tough-minded yet tender parent struggling with the dilemma of how big a role she should play in her daughter's life and usually erring on the side of excess.
In the premiere, airing tomorrow night at 8 on Channel 9 (after which the series moves to its regular and less cushy time slot, Tuesday nights at 10), the perfunctory premise is perfunctorily set up in an episode underscored with so many pop songs it begins to seem more like an oldies album than a TV show.
We meet Amy Gray (Brenneman, of course) 10 years earlier, lying on a bed in her wedding dress and wondering whether she has made the right decision. She apparently hasn't. Back in the present, separated from her husband, she's also separated from New York and has returned with her young daughter to her hometown of Hartford, Conn., in the hope of finding herself and discovering who she really is and all those other psychobabbly TV cliches.
Brenneman, who previously appeared on "NYPD Blue," seems nothing special here, blending in with lots of other actresses and even blending in with the scenery. But Daly's mighty mama brings her, and the show, to fits of life. Daly, of course, spent a year or two in the Broadway role of Rose, Gypsy Rose Lee's mom in "Gypsy"; she was a stage mother in more ways than one. The experience may have helped her with the character of Amy's mother, who is less abrasive but no less complex.
When Mom shows up unexpectedly at her daughter's workplace and joins her for lunch, Amy is both pleased (she's new on the job and feeling isolated and alone) and wary (Mom is anything but shy about sharing her feelings and opinions). At one point in the conversation, Daly says, "I love work," and you know it's the performer talking as well as the character.
Although Amy Gray practiced corporate law in New York and therefore presumably is not a shy little buttercup, she is portrayed as being nervous and jittery in her new job as a small-town Superior Court judge. Her daughter asks, "Is it boring?" and the way it's written and played, yes it is. Why should Amy be so nervous? The producers probably think it makes her more likable. It only makes her seem a ninny.
Dan Futterman hangs around mopily as Amy's brother, a dog groomer whom network publicity describes as "free-spirited." He's about as free-spirited as a John Tesh tune. And even less captivating. At the courthouse, Richard T. Jones and Karle Warren play the TV-formula equivalent of one from Column A and one from Column B. Nobody but Daly really seems happy to be there and determined to make an impression.
Amy Gray appears as ineffectual a judge as "Judging Amy" is a series, but if the mother-daughter conflicts can be beefed up and Brenneman comes out from under the huge umbrella of coiffed-up curls, something could come of this yet. Right now it's "appointment TV" only for people with a mad and indiscriminate compulsion to make frivolous and unnecessary appointments.
CAPTION: Amy Brenneman, Steffani Anne Brass and Tyne Daly in "Judging Amy."