Someone just pushed Judge Jim Thomas down an elevator shaft.
Our review of L.A. Law: Season One, published February 18th, 2014, is also available.
Ah, the '80s. Big hair and women's shoulder pads.
In 1986, L.A. Law displaced the flagging Hill Street Blues as the second
anchor of NBC's Thursday juggernaut, "Must See TV." It was slickly produced,
smartly written, and populated with lots of oh so pretty people. Solid ratings
and a bunch of Emmy nominations followed, so that the show sailed into its
sophomore season with a full head of steam. Despite the success, the show was
still in the process of creating itself, and the second season saw two key
additions to the show: Blair Underwood as brash, young attorney Jonathan
Rollins, and Larry Drake as Benny Stulwicz, an intellectually-challenged adult
who gets a job as the firm's messenger. They join the established members of the
firm: Mike Kuzak (Harry Hamlin, Mad
Men), a fiery attorney; Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits, Sons of Anarchy), a fiery attorney;
Anne Kelso (Jill Eikenberry, Arthur), a fiery attorney; Stuart
Markowitz (Michael Tucker, Radio
Days), a not particularly fiery tax attorney; Abby Perkins (Michele Greene,
Big Love, a young but not too fiery (yet)
attorney; and Arnie Becker (Corbin Bersen, Psych), a fiery—and horny—divorce
attorney. Presiding over this conflagration of attorneys is managing partner
Douglas Brackman (Alan Rachins, Dharma and Greg) and senior partner
Leland McKenzie (Richard Dysart, The
Thing). Also along for the ride is Grace van Owen (Susan Dey, The Partridge Family), assistant
DA and Kuzak's main squeeze.
The show tries for the easy blend of drama and humor that Hill Street Blues managed so effortlessly, but here it always seems as though everyone is trying just a little too hard. Situations occasionally seem contrived, humor often pushed past the point of absurdity. While the show was created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, one of the strongest creative voices behind the show was David E. Kelly. A practicing attorney who had caught Bochco's eye with his script for the Judd Nelson courtroom thriller, From the Hip, Kelley started off as story editor, becoming a co-producer in the second season, and executive producer when Bochco stepped away from the series before the third season. Kelley's later series—Ally McBeal, Picket Fences, Boston Legal—all had a slightly skewed take on reality, featuring casts full of truly eccentric characters. At this early stage of his career though, he hadn't fully found his voice. The result is a show that, while consistently entertaining, rarely if ever achieves greatness.
What is on display is Kelley's remarkable knack for proselytizing. The man writes courtroom dialog in general and courtroom speeches in particular like nobody else—passionate, pointed, polished to a gem-like precision, dialog that gives actors something into which they can dig with abandon. And the cast does just that. Jimmy Smits, who's still clearly learning the acting ropes, nevertheless has a bravura performance as he cross examines a legendary but aging attorney (Ralph Bellamy, Trading Places). Several notable guest stars also get a chance to shine, in particular Dan Castellaneta (that's Homer Simpson to you and me) as an actor who has continued to play a superhero at malls and such long after his series has been cancelled, and James Earl Jones (Field of Dreams) as a defense attorney who plays the race card whenever and wherever possible—not because he is a racist, but because he thinks it gives his clients a better chance at being acquitted. The personal lives of the main cast, in contrast, aren't nearly as engaging. Granted, it's fun to watch Becker chase every woman who crosses his path, and it's fun/slightly icky to watch the 50-car pile-up that is Brackman's personal life, but both characters are drawn in such an exaggerated way that you can't really identify with them. It's a problem with the other characters as well, more types than real characters.
Trivia: 1988 was a banner year for Christian Slater, with breakout performances in both Heathers and Tucker: The Man and His Dream. But he also guest starred here in "The Bald Ones," as a petty crook on trial for murder.
Little, if any, restoration work has been done to these standard def 1.33:1 full frame transfers. I've had videotapes that looked better. While there isn't much in the way of film damage, contrast and color depth is way off. Anything dark is consumed by black crush, and skin tones are wildly inconsistent. While I get that you can't do a full restoration on every title, if you're going to go to the trouble to put a disc out, at least put SOME effort into cleaning up the picture.
The years have not been particularly kind to L.A. Law, a good but not great show from the late '80s and early '90s. Shout! Factory has been even less than kind, with video that can only be considered substandard.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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