Judge Kristin Munson is completely jealous of her British colleagues. Where they get long robes and horsehair wigs, she has to make do with black plastic ponchos and hair rollers.
Res Ipsa Loquitur: The Thing Speaks for Itself
I'm not trying to justify my classics minor with my charge (The ability to translate every filthy line Catullus ever wrote is a reward unto itself); I'm simply presenting evidence. New Street Law's like an English Law & Order with just a spritz of L.A. Law. Its ability to strike a balance of personal drama and legal procedural makes it a court show that absolutely speaks for itself. It doesn't have much choice because, once again, a heavily accented program is imported without subtitles.
Facts of the Case
New Street Law charts the legal trials and personal tribulations within the chambers of Jack Roper. Jack (John Hannah, The Mummy) is a hopeless idealist in search of the truth but luckily Annie (Lara Cazalet, Bad Girls) is around to knock him and the other boys down a peg. Joe (Lee Williams, The Wolves of Kromer) and Charlie (John Thomson, Cold Feet) both want to hit the big time but Joe's a recent graduate and Charlie's got two wives and three kids to take care of. Even as they're fighting for their clients' freedom, they're struggling to make ends meets.
• "Episode 1"
• "Episode 2"
• "Episode 3"
• "Episode 4"
• "Episode 5"
• "Episode 6"
• "Episode 7"
• "Episode 8"
You'll notice in the episode descriptions that not a lot goes on in the personal lives of this Manchester law group. That's because the law is their life, especially when each fee means keeping a creditor off their back or their computers from being repossessed. The lawyers' personal lives don't override the legal cases but the writers work them in as motivators or objects of stress, sometimes stretching to find personal motivations for every case. However, unlike the outing of Serena Southerlyn in Law and Order, episodes don't drop nonsensical bombshells in the final 30 seconds of a character's appearance.
New Street Law is about the courtroom, not the bedroom. The first season is packed with standalone court cases, as many as three an episode. While none of the cases get as twisty and intriguing as the premiere's arson case, between shoplifters and medical malpractice suits cases run such a gamut from light to dark that there's at least one story to pull you into any episode.
While the noble legal aid lawyers are the focus of the show, the program never takes the easy road of painting black and white stories in broad strokes. The rival chambers may work upstairs in a swanky office while Roper's team slaves in an unfinished basement, but it doesn't automatically mean the poorer clients are wrongly accused underdogs. Some of the defendants are unpleasant, manipulative, and utterly guilty and the lawyers from both chambers will do anything to win, even if it isn't strictly legal. Along the way it comes out that the two chambers are connected in more ways than one.
The series may be case-driven but it doesn't skimp on the character development. Jack is the hero, but his tunnel vision sometimes puts his clients in danger of losing a much-needed settlement and other lawyers poke at his bouts of righteous indignation. Smooth operator and office lothario Charlie Darling ("Call me Darling") isn't at all how you'd picture the typical ladies' man and a gay character gets to be the normal, level-headed member of the crew instead of the comic relief or the celibate best friend. While you may not like all of them, you can relate, and when the season ends with one lawyer in jail, two in an affair, and one possibly out the door, you will be cursing the short season format.
Each New Street Law: The Complete First Season disc features a crisp anamorphic picture and Dolby Digital track. Scene cutaways are paired with a sound effect that moves across the speakers with a "whoosh" that helps ratchet up the drama. Alas, we get no subtitles but for once a British import has extras: a set of outtakes that are just an endless reel of blown lines and bad takes that aren't interesting or funny. An excruciating series of takes where a judge tries to hit billiard balls in a certain order guarantees you'll only watch this feature once. It's a nice gesture but a total waste of space.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Court works differently in England. Rather than having a lawyer, a person has to hire a solicitor who then connects them with a barrister to represents them at trial. Instead of a practice, barristers form chambers and can work defense and prosecution cases as they choose.
I'm telling you this because the people who produced this set didn't include so much as a paragraph of explanation on the discs or the insert, and leave you to figure it all out as you go. Until you can get your bearings, it feels like you've been dumped in a foreign environment with a WWII paratrooper's phrase book. 'Ou est le general? Je suis Americain!'
If you're weary of L&O reruns and need a law-show fix without a lot of ridiculous subplots, New Street Law is a sure bet. It's so compulsively watchable you can run through the whole set in a few days, if you're not careful, but the number and variety of cases in each episode makes up for the shorter UK season.
For putting some effort into their latest release, the court believes Koch Vision is showing signs of remorse, and is therefore sentenced to community service. Perhaps a few dozen hours shoveling dropped punctuation in a subtitle warehouse will make them see the error of their ways?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
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