Judge Adam Arseneau wouldn't dream of crossing Jordan, because she'd probably kick his ass.
The dead bodies are easy. It's the alive ones that get more complicated.
Created by Tim Kring (Heroes: Season One) NBC's Crossing Jordan enjoyed a solid six years on network television amassing a comfortably-sized but voracious fan base. Canceled out of the blue last year, the show is now finally available on DVD, starting with Crossing Jordan: Season One.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy, Law and Order: The Fourth Year), medical examiner extraordinaire is as brilliant as she is feisty and outspoken. Unfortunately for her employers, this is a mixed blessing at best. Fired from every position she has held over the last five years, she returns to her hometown of Boston to beg for work from her old, estranged mentor Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer, Twin Peaks: The Complete First Season). Macy agrees to hire her back, but on the condition she can keep at bay her wild impulses to get personally invested in her work.
For Jordan, being a medical examiner goes beyond a job. She has some deep demons to work out relating to the unsolved murder of her mother, and every case is another mystery that needs to be solved for the good of her own soul.
Crossing Jordan: Season One features all 23 episodes from the show's debut season, spread across five discs:
At times, Crossing Jordan feels like a light, sexy version of CSI with slapstick humor thrown in for good measure. In essence, the creators have taken the medical drama genre and flipping it around on its head, giving it sitcom-esque humor, witty dialogue, and complex character development. In doing so, it puts the emphasis on the characters themselves, not the individual cases they work, leaving the creators to focus their attentions on more long-term goals. Grey's Anatomy does this very well today, but Crossing Jordan was doing it seven years ago.
It is refreshing to see a television show entirely focused around a strong female role without said show being exclusively appealing to the fairer sex, if you get my meaning. Though the show rapidly ramps up to be a strong ensemble drama spreading its love around to all characters, the heart of Crossing Jordan centers on Jordan herself, and if you dislike like the character, the show will hold little attraction for you. She is strong, stubborn, single-minded, and sexy, yet surprisingly damaged and fragile underneath the bravado (which the show loves to strip away and reveal at every opportunity) and creates endless opportunities for writers to craft tales around. As protagonists go, Jordan is admittedly fascinating, partly in credit to the talent of the actress portraying her. Svelte and lithe, Jill Hennessy is the rare woman who is plain and boring at first glance, but gets excessively more compelling and beautiful with every passing moment. She gives her heartfelt dialogue with her throaty growl that sounds like she just ate a pack of cigarettes and her last two boyfriends for lunch. This is the kind of character that writers must love to create stories for.
Unfortunately, Crossing Jordan: Season One is not indicative of the show that Crossing Jordan inevitably becomes. On first viewing, the episodes feel contrived and just a tiny bit awkward, as if unsure how to balance between its various elements. All the individual pieces are good: likable and unique characters, well-realized personalities, interesting plot devices and medical thriller storylines, intense parental anxiety issues, snappy dialogue…they just don't quite mesh. Imagine a scrambled jigsaw not yet assembled; the pieces themselves are in perfect condition and snap together perfectly, but the completed picture itself is still elusive. Still, it is rare to find a show that steams ahead right out of the starting gate. One should not be too critical on this point, as a noticeable improvement can be detected even by the end of this first debut season. The last two episodes in particular are top-notch television drama.
The rest of the cast slowly come into their own, but not nearly as fast as Jordan, who emerges from the televised womb perfectly formed. Dr. Garret Macy is the next strongest character, a perfect blend of jaded bitterness and gruff kindness masking deep-seated personality problems. Actors Ravi Kapoor, Steve Valentine, and Kathryn Hahn get some screen time, but their characters fail to materialize as strongly as their companions. Season One also features the introduction of a character who eventually joins the cast fulltime, Detective Woody Hoyt (Jerry O'Connell, Sliders), the earnest farm boy cop come to the big city, like Woody from Cheers with a gun and a badge, both charmingly annoying and annoyingly charming.
A blend of comedy, melodrama, medical procedural drama, romance, and psychological introspection, Crossing Jordan covers all its bets across the board. While I am not sure medical examiners are allowed to dog police officers the way Jordan does, and some of the plots are pretty out there, the show admittedly has a knack of blending drama, dysfunction, and comedy into every episode that it is difficult to genuinely dislike. It has a cumulative effect upon your psyche—the more Crossing Jordan you watch, the more you enjoy it. This is the kind of show that gets better with age, and future seasons will no doubt bring more enjoyment.
Presented in a handsome anamorphic transfer, Crossing Jordan: Season One exhibits impressive fidelity and quality for a television release. The picture is crystal clear with no noticeable defects and minimal grain. Red levels are a bit saturated muddling up the flesh tones, but black levels are nice and rich. A great-looking presentation overall. Audio skimps out a bit with only a 2.0 stereo transfer, but dialogue is clear and crisp. Bass response is nicely balanced. Crossing Jordan features heavy use of popular music and current hit songs from the early 2000s, which many suspected delayed the show's release to DVD. If you look very closely on the packaging, there is a tiny "music may differ from televised version" disclaimer, so it is probable that some changes have been made to bring the show to DVD. Purists beware.
Extras are decent for a five-disc set. Four episodes ("Pilot," "Miracles & Wonders," "For Harry, With Love and Squalor," and "Secrets & Lies, Part II") feature commentary by creator Tim Kring, producer/director Allan Arkush, and composers Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin. Sit-down interviews featuring Tim Kring and Allan Arkush on-set with producer Dennis Hammer, cast members Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer, Steve Valentine, Ravi Kapoor, and Kathryn Hahn in various combinations break out comfortable banter like old friends, revealing some introspective concepts the producers were aiming for, mixing in behind-the-scenes footage. Toss in some deleted scenes on select episodes to round out the set, and fans should be fairly pleased.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As is often the case during a show's initial season, things are a bit awkward, what with the growing pains and whatnot. Later seasons of Crossing Jordan exhibit a polished flow and snappy repartee between cast members, a flow lacking in these early episodes, and some attempted plot devices are abandoned in favor of a smoother flow. In particular, one irksome plot device in the first season has Jordan and her father "re-enact" crime scene events through some weird spiritual ritual that puts Jordan at the scene of the crime, talking in first person as the victim or the murderer. Later seasons drop this plot device, which cannot come soon enough. It is way corny.
A stronger character drama than a medical show, Crossing Jordan: Season One represents the jumping off point of a quality ensemble cast still finding its rhythm. The fantastic performance of Jill Hennessey rides the show into victory.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentaries with Creator Tim Kring, Producer/Director Allan Arkush, and Composers Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin
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