To enter Judge Judy’s courtroom is to enter a world where time stands still. Judith Sheindlin has hosted her eponymous court series since 1996, not long after she retired as a Manhattan judge, but a case from an early show could be thrown in tomorrow’s episode and I doubt I’d ever notice. In cases ranging from 5 to 15 minutes, you can always count on Judy to summarize the dispute, hear the arguments, and hone in on the truth with the precision of a diamond cutter — the same way, with the same archetypes, in every single one of her thousands and thousands of episodes. “This is her courtroom… This is Judge Judy!” exclaims the narrator at the start of each show. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I love Judge Judy. I can’t stop watching it. Every day I come home at night with a plan to finally read The Great Gatsby, and every day poor F. Scott gathers dust on the shelf while I seek more Judy on YouTube, the chip-crumbs of failure spread across my chest. Ah, screw it, I tell myself — with its bite-sized stories of crime and punishment, betrayal and revenge, bullying and comeuppance, family feuds, frauds, sex, violence, drugs, abuse, and sweet, sweet justice, the cases on Judge Judy are concise, perfect dramas. Judge Judy may be a terrible show with its daily ceremony of shame and ridicule, but as terrible shows go, it’s one of the best.
My inner lapsed-Catholic cries for ritual, and Judge Judy is my new Stations of the Cross. Like the teenagers in a slasher movie who check the mysterious sound in the woods right after having sex, Judy’s plaintiffs and defendants never learn from precedent. They always lend money to their ex-boyfriends, who always insist the bail money was just a gift. They always try to interrupt each other’s testimony before being snapped at by the judge. The poor souls bring witnesses, and more often than not, they live to regret it. “Your Honor, can I just say something?” “NO!”
She has delivered thousands of verdicts in thousands of episodes, but Judy can always muster the rage and indignation of being interrupted for the first time. As the cases wind down, the poor souls grow desperate, saying they “disagree” or that “you’re not being fair!” as if their cries of protest will make a difference. And they always — always — no matter how innocuous their crimes or predictable their behavior — will so irritate Judy that she will eventually unleash her piercing, primal scream. “SIT DOWN!” “BE QUIET!” “I DON’T WANNA HEAR FROM YOU!” “WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE!” “SHUT UP!” The glorious, glorious money-shot.
Every day, ten million people tune in for the daily ceremony — ten million junkies in search of a fix. The well of eager applicants for Judy’s abuse never dries, and whenever the omniscient narrator asks for audience participation — “Suing a family member? Call 1-888-800-JUDY!” — my heart goes a-flutter. Hurrah — more drama on the horizon! No sooner is one case done than the teaser for tomorrow’s episode revs up (“A broken engagement… A daughter betrayed!…”), and the wait for the next day grows agonizing. Judge Judy episodes are like cleavage: they’re always the same, they’re not usually memorable, and yet I feel I will never get tired of looking at them.
As she enters her 17th season and 69th year, Judy shows no sign of leaving. At an age when even the most venerable shows make cosmetic adjustments, Judge Judy’s aesthetic stays Bressonian in its minimalism. After 17 seasons, the courtroom has the same flag, the same cardboard bookcase, and the same five or six camera angles. 17 seasons and we still have “Byrd,” the stone-faced bailiff and Judge Judy’s Paul Schaffer — gruff and silent except for the rare, perfect zinger. The plaintiffs and defendants wear the same golf shirts and cheap suits, and the same eBay scams and broken relationships return with only the names and places changed. In recent years, the opening credits have featured a jazzier version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and the producers have added New York street scenes before the commercial breaks (curious, since the show is shot in L.A.). I hope that will be all — any more changes to Judy’s world could harm its simple perfection.
You can depend on Judge Judy. No matter where you are, no matter what you’ve done, it’s always there for you. Sometimes we spend our lives searching for happiness, never realizing it’s right there in front of us. The older I get, and the more I experience, the more I realize that Judge Judy is the one for me. Yes, friends, I’ve given it some thought, I think it’s time for Judge Judy and I to finally settle down and start a life together.