Courtroom Episode

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This is an episode that's structured around a court case, in a series not normally focused on litigation. In other words, it's an Out-of-Genre Experience where the genre being shifted into is "Law Procedural." Sometimes this is a serious matter, and sometimes—almost all the time on Sit Coms—it's because of a Frivolous Lawsuit.

Because lawyers get to have all the fun in court, you can expect a major character to be incongruously forced into playing one. They'll almost always succeed in arguing their case despite not actually having a law degree, or indeed starting the episode with any clue about what they're doing.

You should also expect an egregiously large number of Courtroom Antics, for reasons reminiscent of the Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics: since the writers don't normally have the opportunity to write such things, they'll feel obligated to cram in all their favorite ones.

Compare Jury Duty and Rogue Juror. See also Prison Episode, which this sometimes doubles as. (Or is sometimes followed by.)

Examples of Courtroom Episode include:

Anime[edit | hide | hide all]


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Con Sentiency series largely focuses on the exploits of a Secret Agent/Bureaucrat Jorj X. McKie. However:
    • A good portion of the novel The Dosadi Experiment focuses on the courtroom drama of the Gowachin, which is much more interesting than its human equivalent.
    • The short story The Tactful Saboteur also features a Courtroom chapter. However, except for a few additions, the courtroom is rather orthodox.
  • The first few chapters of the Sector General book The Genocidal Healer are framed by a misconduct trial for the book's protagonist, though they mainly consist of a recounting of the events that led to the trial in the first place.
  • Most of the Sagas of Icelanders contain at least one, with plenty of fancy speeches and occasional bouts of Off on a Technicality.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Both Adam-12 and Dragnet have had courtroom-based episodes, featuring on the roles police officers play in the judicial process and problems that invariably arise. For instance, the Adam-12 episode "Courtroom" centered around the importance of obtaining a search warrant when the defendant (standing trial on drug charges) claims that Reed had failed to obtain one.
  • The Brady Bunch: The 1972 episode "The Fender Benders," where a money-seeking man named Harry Duggan (Jackie Coogan) files a lawsuit against Carol by claiming their minor, non-injury fender-bender in a parking lot resulted in severe whiplash. Carol disputes the charges and – just when it appears that the judge will rule in favor of Mr. Duggan – Mike exposes Duggan as a fraud.
  • Family Matters:
    • In Season 3's "Citizen's Court": When Carl squashes Urkel's rare Peruvian beetle and – after Urkel complains – reasons that "it was just a stupid beetle," the nerd becomes determined to see if a judge agrees, going to the local TV courtroom show "Citizens Court" (an obvious parody of that show). The usual hijinks ensue, with Waldo admitting that Urkel coached him on his testimony and Eddie claiming that his father is an ill-tempered madman (and Urkel trying to get Harriette to admit the same), before Urkel and Carl agree to settle. The opening of the show is directly copied from The People's Court, and takes a humorous dig at litigants of shows similar to Wapner's courtroom show: "These are ticked off people who are unable to settle the cases themselves!"
    • Season 5's "Presumed Urkel," where Urkel is accused of causing an explosion in a chemistry classroom at Vanderbilt High. Laura – who was at this point in the series still annoyed by the nerd's plays for love – agrees to defend Urkel's honor when she senses that an academic rival named Dexter Thornhill seems very eager to have him expelled. The matter is held in Vanderbilt's student court. (In the end, Laura uses a blacklight to reveal that Thornhill was responsible; when exposed, Thornhill admits that he did it because he believed that Urkel didn't deserve to win first prize at the science fair.)
  • I Love Lucy: One of the earliest courtroom-based episodes sees the Ricardos and Mertzes feud over a damaged television set. The Ricardos had purchased a TV set for the Mertzes, but when the picture tube blows out, Fred – claiming that Ricky knowingly gave him a defective set – goes to the Ricardos' apartment and breaks their TV. Both are even-steven after a judge hears the bickering couples fight it out.
  • Sister, Sister: When Tia accuses twin sister Tamera of distributing copies of her diary to fellow classmates, she takes her to Student Court. But the episode soon focuses on two yuksters who fail to take the concept seriously and turn the matter into one big joke. It isn't long before those two students are exposed as the culprits ... and the principal has a long, stern talk with them about the judicial process and why matters heard in Student Court aren't fun and games.
  • CBS Schoolbreak Special: The 1985 episode "Student Court" focused on the workings of a high school student court – students who assist the administration with conflict resolution and interpretation of school policy. This student court takes on another dimension: determining what punishment, if any, a teen-aged girl accused of shoplifting should face.
  • The episode "Testimony of a Traitor" in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century has Buck accused of treason.
  • The Farscape episode "Dream A Little Dream" has Zhaan framed for murder on a planet whose hat is that 90% of them are lawyers. Rygel and Chiana have to defend her.
  • Leverage has two of these:
    • In "The Juror #5 Job", Parker is a juror in a wrongful-death suit, and Hardison has to pretend to be a high-powered lawyer in order to stall the case until the rest of the team can finish the con.
    • In "The Lost Heir Job", the team takes on a client who's entangled in a probate case; Nate ends up playing a Large Ham shyster from Vegas.
  • Star Trek does this quite a bit:
    • In Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • "The Menagerie" prominently features Spock being court-martialed for stealing the Enterprise. He did it, but apparently he has Hero Insurance.
      • "Court Martial": Captain Kirk is accused of negligently causing the death of a crewman and perjury.
      • "Wolf in the Fold." Scotty is accused of multiple acts of murder and Captain Kirk effectively acts as his defense attorney. The start of Denny Crane's career, no doubt.
    • In Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • In "The Measure of a Man", Picard tries to establish the precedent that Data is legally human, with Riker forced by the Starfleet legal system into arguing against him.
      • "The Drumhead" is centered around a court-martial about sabotage aboard the Enterprise, eventually devolving to a witch-hunt for supposed traitors (while the "sabotage" was merely faulty equipment).
      • "Devil's Due." Picard must prove that an alien being is not the Devil. Data acts as the arbitrator in charge of hearing the case.
      • "A Matter of Perspective." Riker is accused of murdering an alien scientist. His trial includes holographic re-creations of events based on witness testimony.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • "Dax" looks like it's going to center around the question of whether Jadzia and Curzon Dax are considered the same person under Bajoran law, much as "The Measure of a Man" centers around the question of whether Data is considered human under Federation law. In the end, Curzon gets exonerated, so it doesn't matter.
      • "Tribunal", in which O'Brien is tried as a terrorist on Cardassia, is more of a Kangaroo Courtroom Episode.
      • "Rules of Engagement" is about an attempt to extradite Worf to the Klingon empire; Sisko defends him.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: Death Wish focuses on a trial deciding whether to grant asylum to a member of the Q Continuum.
  • In the rebooted Battlestar Galactica Reimagined:
    • Most of "Crossroads" (the season 3 finale) is taken up by Baltar's trial for treason. Apollo ends up playing lawyer; Adama is randomly selected to be one of the judges.
    • The first season episode "Litmus" revolves heavily around a military tribunal created in the wake of a suicide bombing.
  • The Stargate Verse has had several:
    • In Stargate SG-1:
      • "Cor-Ai" has Teal'c being put on trial for a murder he committed before his Heel Face Turn, and Jack (primarily, but the others do help) has to defend him.
      • "Pretense" consists of a trial to determine whether Skaara or the Goa'uld inhabiting his body has a right to it. Daniel and Jack share lawyering duty.
      • A third case almost happens in "Collateral Damage" when Mitchell is apparently responsible for killing someone, but avoids an actual court case since the charges were quickly glossed over under the pretense of Mitchell having diplomatic immunity. Instead the point of the episode is to prove Mitchell's innocence.
    • The Stargate Atlantis episode "Inquisition", which doubles as a Clip Show and features a Joker Jury, has the main Atlantis team put on trial by the Coalition of Planets (which consists of the various weakling civilizations in Pegasus who were brutalized by the Wraith) for their numerous Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moments and general Moral Dissonance throughout the series. The episode ended with them bribing one of the judges to vote in their favor, his vote being the swing vote.
    • The Stargate Universe episode "Justice" is centered around an investigation and informal trial about the death--eventually shown to be suicide--of Sergeant Spencer.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Justice" puts Rimmer on trial for the murder of the Red Dwarf crew.
  • The Tenth Kingdom has one when Wolf is accused of killing livestock.
  • In The Odd Couple episode "The Dog Story," Felix is arrested for kidnapping a performing dog mistreated by its agent. He insists on defending himself in court, in his hilariously pompous and arrogant Large Ham manner.
  • Several Seinfeld episodes, most notably the finale.
  • The flashforwards in the Lost episode "Eggtown."
  • Criminal Minds: "Tabula Rasa", in which a killer previously tracked down by the BAU it put on trial after awakening from a coma...with total retrograde amnesia.
  • Courts-martial figure in several Mash episodes:
    • In "The Trial of Henry Blake", the titular C.O. is accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy after Majors Burns and Houlihan file a complaint about the lack of discipline under his command.
    • In "The Novocaine Mutiny", Hawkeye is tried for mutiny after temporary commander Major Burns is accidentally knocked unconscious during an argument between the two men in the O.R. This leads to the two men providing widely conflicting versions of the same events in their testimony.
    • In "Snappier Judgment", the second installment in a two-part episode, Klinger is tried after circumstantial evidence pins him to a rash of thefts at the 4077th.
  • Episodes of Bones usually end with apprehending the killer, but occasionally the court case is included as well. Also, sometimes the killer is already in custody and the episode centers around finding evidence and presenting it in court.
  • Married... with Children has a few examples.
    • In one, Al/Peggy/Steve/Marcy sue a motel for videotaping their exploits.
    • The Bundys also went to court because of a car crash. They thought they'd win because Marcy was testifying for them but it turned out she was biased against anyone who owned Mercedes cars because her ex-husband had one.
    • Another happens when Bud is caught "relieving some tension" at the school library.
    • At one point Al is sued by the guy that tried to rob him.
  • Get Smart: "The Day Smart Turned Chicken." Smart is a witness in the court against KAOS, and they decide to frame him. Then he calls additional witnesses in his defense.
  • The Steve Harvey Show had two:
    • The first one had Lovita suing Steve after the TV she bought from him stopped working and he refused to give Lovita her money back. Lovita even tried to sway the jury by using the closing argument speech from A Time to Kill. The judge turned out to be a woman who was a backup dancer during Steve's Hi-Top days.
    • The second one had Lydia, Romeo, and Bullethead suing Steve and Regina on the real-life court show Judge Mathis over a confiscated thingamigjig that got broken. Steve and Regina lost the case when it was revealed that Regina broke the kids' computer/pager/PDA/whatever by putting Lovita's awful casserole (that bubbled while COLD) on top of it.
  • The Wayans Bros had one where Marlon sued Shawn because he broke his leg and missed out on a dance competition due to slipping on some coffee that Shawn spilled. Much Hilarity Ensues.
  • Frasier has the episode "Crane Vs. Crane", where Frasier and Niles are expert witnesses on opposite sides of a court case.
  • The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog has an episode where Angus placed in a trial for a crime he was framed, he has to defend himself while taking advice from a fairy who is secretly acting as his lawyer. Thing clear out when Ivar brings in the real culprit and Angus let off.
  • An episode of 24 from late in the second season, 4:00am to 5:00am, has President Palmer's cabinet vote on whether to remove him from office under the 25th Amendment. It takes place in a conference room, rather than a courtroom, but they call surprise witnesses, debate the spirit versus the letter of the law, and have impassioned closing arguments. The President himself even declares it "the trial of David Palmer."
  • Little House On The Prairie had two. The first was "Barn Burner", where town bigot Mr. Larabee is accused of burning down the Garvey Barn. The second is "Blind Justice", where a man is put on trial after being accused of swindling the citizens of Walnut Grove in a land scandal.


Video Games[edit | hide]


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Parodied in Chasing the Sunset: "The Hell's Pixies" invoked Pixie Law when one of them "alledges to be the rightful owner of a necklace currently in the possession of Feiht". The first problem being that they all are pixies - and the first time we have seen two pixies together, they stole some shiny things from each other right during the greeting. Pixies themselves perfectly understand how ludicrous this is, of course. Even before the hearing started, it turned out that pixies' idea of law is fuzzier than a kitten. Comedy ensues.

Dread: The counsel of the defense is held in contempt of court.
Ayne: What? I haven't even said anything yet!
Dread: Do you have contempt for the court?
Ayne: Well... yes.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Several Futurama episodes, as well as a significant part of the last movie.

Bender: Court's kind of fun when it's not my ass on the line.