Can’t Wait To Escape 2020? Professors Suggest These ‘Guilty Pleasures’

Professors Recommend Legal-Themed Entertainment To Hunker Down With as Year Concludes
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Photo Illustration by Warren Craghead

December 17, 2020

For many, 2020 is a year best left behind. What better way to exit than through the kinds of entertaining escapes that got us through the past 350 days? We asked professors at the University of Virginia School of Law for their favorite guilty pleasures with a legal angle.

In some cases, like any good movie lawyer, they bent the rules a little.

Professor Deborah Hellman recommends two films: “My Cousin Vinny,” the 1992 courtroom comedy set in Alabama, and “Woman in Gold,” which recounts a Jewish refugee’s epic legal battle with the government of Austria to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s painting of her aunt. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Professor Josh Bowers suggested listening to “Dead and Gone,” a true crime podcast about the 1985 murder of two Grateful Dead fans.

Admitting there’s “no legal angle,” Professor Kim Forde-Mazrui said he “feels a bit guilty enjoying the Netflix TV show ‘Lucifer,’” an urban fantasy television series. (Netflix General Counsel David Hyman ’93ֹ is conveniently a UVA Law graduate.)

What winter sojourn is complete without “Die Hard?” None other than Professor A. E. Dick Howard ’61 claimed it as a favorite guilty pleasure, declaring it “gripping and funny by turns — a perfect escape movie, especially at a time when the pandemic has marooned us.”

He debates: “Does it have a legal angle? Well, sort of. It extolls the uses of self-help when the authorities are helpless. I suppose that you could also say that it’s a holiday film — it takes place on Christmas Eve.”

Professor Cathy Hwang said she is a “big fan” of British murder mysteries. “I’m currently re-watching ‘Broadchurch,’ which is on Netflix. I wouldn’t call it a guilty pleasure, though, because I don’t feel guilty about watching it at all. :)”

Professor Cale Jaffe ’01 also reports “no guilt” in loving Maya Rudolph’s portrayal of Judge Gen in the TV show “The Good Place,” which the former SNL star has said is modeled on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “And ‘The Burrito’ episode toward the end of season 2 perfectly captures the befuddlement that new lawyers feel in their first court appearance without a senior attorney to guide them,” Jaffe added.

Alum Kassia Miller ’06 was a writer on the series.

The 2004 “Battlestar Galactica” reboot won Professor Michael Livermore over.It’s great sci-fi, and a huge part of the series is about examining the limits and value of the law under extraordinary circumstances.”

Professor Liz Magill ’92, UVA’s executive vice president and provost, said she is looking forward to watching “The Great British Baking Show” and the British comedy game show “Taskmaster.” Also on her list is re-watching the extended versions of “The Lord of the Rings” series with family, and “The Godfather” movies while cooking “red gravy (tomato sauce).”

She hopes to bake a few treats to top off the entertainment: her mother-in-law’s dobos tort and her mother’s rum cake.

Professor Rip Verkerke closes out the list with “Better Call Saul,” the spin-off drama and prequel to “Breaking Bad” that follows criminal lawyer Saul Goodman’s career before he set up his practice in a strip mall.

“It’s much less harrowing than ‘Breaking Bad,’ but every bit as creative,” Verkerke said. “Obviously, a dark portrayal of legal practice, but even Saul Goodman has some genuinely heroic moments.”

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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