Now that's more like it! After watching every other show this week more or less tread water, I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to see Bad Judge fix basically every problem I had with the pilot.
The second episode, "Meteor Shower," does away with the annoying kid, makes you laugh, and most importantly, commits to an identity for both its main character and the show as a whole. The character is a spiteful, insecure hedonist that's oddly sympathetic, and the show? It's a live-action cartoon.
That's not an insult, either. "Live action cartoon" is a perfectly fine sitcom route, and it's worked, to varying degrees, for everything from 30 Rock to certain seasons of Scrubs to every single episode, good and bad, of the vastly overrated but sometimes charming Parks and Recreation. For Bad Judge, this is a cartoon universe with minimal consequences for big actions like imprisoning an entire courtroom or attacking a stranger with an axe, and yet still one that takes its characters and their emotions seriously in the littler moments when they're making plans for a Friday night or semi-subtly fending off an overzealous morning kisser with a coffee mug. This is a massive step in the right direction.
Kate Walsh no longer has to heroically blend two completely separate characters, as the new show runner has given her a unified version of the mess we saw in the pilot. Judge Wright is, way deep down, probably a good person but she doesn't have her shit together even a little bit, and her first instinct in all cases is spite. Sometimes this works out for her (getting control of her super famous defendant), sometimes it doesn't (flipping off the paparazzi), but either way it's usually funny. Walsh is a good enough actress to make Wright a human being even beneath the cartoon shenanigans, and here, much moreso than in the pilot, she's backed by an able supporting cast.
Ryan Hansen remains good as her primary love interest, though he's given less to do this episode, but Tone Loc's Tedward has successfully made the jump from black cliche to supporting character, and he's a good one. He's Wright's confidant and voice of reason, admiring her rebellious streak while wishing she could get her life together. He's also very funny, as the two have a natural rapport befitting two longtime friends, and he's turned the volume down about two notches from the pilot to great effect. Captain Awesome himself, Ryan McPartlin, guest stars as a doofy fireman around whom several of the best jokes in the episode are constructed, particularly one involving The Outsiders. In terms of sight gags, keep an eye out for his tattoo.
The jokes in general this time are much funnier, if occasionally playing to the cheap seats, and in this weakened fall television slate "Meteor Shower" is probably pound for pound the funniest episode yet. Mind you, given the competition, that's not saying a ton, but it's still something. The show's humor hits more often than it misses (though it does miss, and often enough to notice), and it manages three or four really big laughs in addition to loads of smaller ones.
The gags that don't work are noticeable, but forgivable. The show is only on it's second episode, and considering how terrible the first one was, "pretty good" is a massive leap and bodes well for the future. The bad news is that this wasn't the pilot, so there may not be a future; anybody who doesn't review television shows for a living (or in my case, adjacent to "for a living") could be forgiven for not coming back after the dumpster fire that was the premier, but "Meteor Shower" gave me a version of this show I'd like to see develop, so hopefully the rest of Fox's fall slate tanks badly enough to justify keeping Bad Judge alive, despite its near certain catastrophe in the ratings.
Overall, very big improvement, very solid cast, and sharp writing. Bad Judge has just nosed past Selfie as the best of the nine (well, six so far) new sitcoms, and I look forward to seeing if it can keep up it's momentum.
One last thing I touched on above but deserves more time: while the universe is a cartoon, the people are not. Rebecca Wright has very human wants, insecurities, and attachments, both to people and things (her scene reminiscing about her van is strong on both a character and humor level), and the show treats those facets seriously. She has real human problems, she doesn't necessarily know how to deal with them, and that makes her much easier to connect with than the cardboard garbage people on Manhattan Love Story or the broken cliches of A to Z or even the one-dimensional-but-likeable lead of Black-Ish. Bad Judge isn't a drama by any stretch of the imagination, but they're laying the groundwork to be able do dramatic scenes in the future without breaking the tone of the show. This, perhaps more than anything else, is encouraging as almost all of the truly great sitcoms were capable of quieter, sadder, and honest scenes of drama, whether it was JD and Dr. Cox coping with the loss of a patient or the various paternal relationships of the Bluth family suffering a painful bed death. Bad Judge won't run long enough to reach those heights, and may not have the writers to do it anyways, but it's an excellent sign that they're thinking in those terms; ambition's a good dream to have.
Stay gold, Pony Boy.