Shout! Factory // 1986 // 1100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 18th, 2014
Roxanne: "I was looking around for the smell when I saw this. Mr.
Chaney. I haven't actually touched him, but I'm pretty sure he's dead."
Arnie: "If he is, I've got dibs on his office."
Of the countless legal dramas that have aired on US television over the course of the past few decades, L.A. Law was certainly one of them.
Okay, that's a little unfair. Steven Bochco's drama was certainly one of the more significant programs of its era, earning strong ratings, critical acclaim and fifteen Emmys over the course of its run (including an astonishing four wins for Outstanding Drama Series). It's a well-oiled machine, which does exactly what just about every legal show sets out to do. It has comedy, it has drama, it has a solid ensemble cast of distinctive characters and it places a greater emphasis on "case of the week" tales than long-arc storytelling. There's certainly a reason this sort of thing has always fared well on television, but honestly, the show has not aged gracefully and arguably doesn't do enough to set itself apart from the plethora of similar legal dramas currently fighting for attention on the airwaves.
The show's most delightful feature is its opening credits sequence, a 90-second montage of mundane office activities underscored by a surging main theme. As the music blasts enthusiastically, we watch the characters open doors, casually talk to each other, pick up the phone, look at the ceiling, mess with their pencils, walk in the hallway -- it's certainly much less sensational than the opening scenes of the show itself, one of which features the discovery of a dead body and another, an angry man rushing into the office and firing a gun at one of the main characters.
The most peculiar and most appealing thing about L.A. Law is the way it never commits itself to any particular tone. It permits inconsequential, goofy tales about the sex lives of its characters to sit alongside exceptionally heavy dramatic material exploring rape/murder/other sordid subjects and never bats an eye. Many shows that engage in this sort of tonal schizophrenia quickly become infuriating, but somehow the west coast setting and "anything goes" vibe of Bochco's show make it work. It's also worth noting that the show is fairly edgy for its era, tackling a wide variety of social issues. Some of the material still resonates (such as the show's handling of racism), while other moments feel clunky and dated (such as the show's handling of homosexuality), but it's about as progressive as one could expect a show created in the Reagan era to be.
The characters aren't exactly groundbreaking, but most of them are likeable and/or interesting. Harry Hamlin (Veronica Mars) does solid work as the show's top-billed character Michael Kukaz, a good-hearted lawyer who generally tries to do the right thing despite the fact that his job often forces him to get his hands dirty. Richard Dysart (Being There) is quite effective as the firm's guiding hand, and Jill Eikenberry (Arthur) is immensely likable as a friendly corporate attorney. It's a kick to see young Jimmy Smits (Sons of Anarchy) onhand, though it's immediately obvious how much he's grown as an actor in the years since.
L.A. Law: Season One spreads its 22 episodes across six discs, and the video quality is...well, not exactly terrific. The show looks soft and fuzzy; hardly better than it would have if you had watched it on television at the time. This doesn't seem like the sort of show that is going to earn a lavish remastering ala Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is a shame for the show's diehard fans. The Dolby 1.0 Mono track is fine, as this is a dialogue driven show that never gets too complicated in the audio department. Supplements include a generous supply of interviews with most of the key cast and crew members.
I don't have the nostalgia for the series that might permit me to be a superfan, but L.A. Law is a perfectly decent legal drama that does what it sets out to do with skill.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1100 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated