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Review: All rise as Steve Harvey cracks wise in Atlanta-filmed judge show

In case there’s any doubt that it has local roots, the new network series Judge Steve Harvey kicks off its opening credits with a skyline of downtown Atlanta. And the show itself — at least the first episode that aired on January 4 — offers some Southern-metropolitan flavor. Faux-judge and fully professional comedian Harvey now splits residences between Los Angeles and Atlanta (in 2020 he bought a $15 million Paces Ferry Road estate that had been significantly upgraded by earlier owner Tyler Perry). And the hour-long primetime show is shot at Fayetteville’s Trilith Studios. 

But let’s get this out of the way: After 25 years of Judge Judy and its many imitators, something like this isn’t exactly groundbreaking. The difference is, unlike Judith Sheindlin, comedian Harvey is not a real-life judge, or even a lawyer. He just, yes, plays one on TV. And he’s hilarious doing it. 

Steve Harvey stars in what’s being billed as an “unscripted courtroom comedy.”

Whether of not Harvey is smarter than everybody else in the room, he acts like he is. Or at least, that he has more common sense. That presumption always fueled the best of his slow-burn, drop-mouthed stares of incredulity when contestants on Family Feud, say, uttered something completely ridiculous. There’s plenty of such opportunities in his new, small-claims court show. 

Airing Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC, and streaming thereafter on Hulu, Judge Steve Harvey is being billed by the network as an “unscripted courtroom comedy.” And as far-fetched as Harvey as a judge may seem, Georgia is, in fact, one of 22 states that do not require a law degree for anyone acting as a magistrate. 

The first episode of the limited series opened with a tale of feuding neighbors: Mui, who’s suing Melanie for a branch that fell on their dividing fence back in 2017. Oh, she also wants Melanie to split the liquor bill for a party Mui hosted at her own house. 

Harvey scoffs at the alcohol request, but tries to pinpoint the day and the weather forecast when the branch came tumbling. Melanie claims it was an act of nature: “There’s storms all the time in Georgia,” she tells him. “You live here, you know this.” Harvey’s ultimate judgment, capped with his wannabe catchphrase, “And that’s the way I see it,” shows that he’s just as happy to dismiss widespread nonsense as he is to award a distinct verdict. 

Especially in this first case, Harvey spends much of his time warning the two women, as they shout over each other, variations of, “It’s not your turn yet!” The second case of the hour also involves two shouty women in a tale of sibling rivalry. Daphne and Tiffani squabble over the alleged misuse of funds earmarked for their brother’s funeral. (The plaintiff claims her sis misspent $6,000 on a “Brazilian butt lift.”) 


If you’ve seen much of Harvey, hosting Showtime at the Apollo or in a filmed concert such as Spike Lee’s The Original Kings of Comedy (2000), you’ll have a pretty good idea how he’s able to spin this material. And when the defendant, after already giving her testimony, says she now wants to plead the fifth, he points at her and brays with laughter: “Oh, you must think this is a real court!” 

Another set of siblings turns up for the final case. Erin, a Kentuckian, sues her woodworker brother Drake, who lives in Alabama, for not building, in a timely fashion, her kitchen cabinetry and a complete dining set for $5,000. Harvey, who presumably knows something about the price of home improvement from keeping up his nearly 35,000-square-foot estate overlooking the Chattahoochee River, balks at the lowball price tag: “Jesus was a carpenter, and he’d have charged more than that.” 

Unlike the hostilities underscored between the previous plaintiffs and defendants, the brother and sister wind up in a weepy armistice by the end, causing Harvey to proclaim, in mock dismay, “I don’t want a court show any more!”

It’s easy to suspect he doesn’t mean it. At this point, the series has only been greenlit for 10 episodes. Maybe if it does well, though — and if Harvey feels like doing any more — ABC will order a longer run. Judge Steve Harvey may be entirely unnecessary, but it’s good-natured, flavorful and entirely welcome. 


Steve Murray is an award-winning journalist and playwright who has covered the arts as a reporter and critic for many years. Catch up to ArtsATL’s Streaming column for January by Steve here.