Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Alan Rachins, Michael Tucker, Richard Dysart, Blair Underwood, Larry Drake, Susan Ruttan, Susan Dey, Jimmy Smits, Harry Hamlin, Michele Greene / Created by Steven Bochco & Terry Louise Fisher
‘There’s money there, I just have to figure out a way to shake the tree..’
With it’s new release onto DVD for 2012, that familiar ‘thunk’ of expensive car-trunk at the beginning of each LA LAW episode proves something of an emotional experience. It’s not just the reappearance of old proxy-friends that stirs the soul, nor the intoxicating warm glow of the Californian sun (bottled, packaged and sold to audiences in distant rainy lands).. but rather the transportation back to the attractive, colourful excesses of 1980’s TV. Pre-mobile phones, pre-internet, pre-jittery, war correspondent style camerawork.. pre-global recession.. pre-stark reality. We’ve grown used to that sharper, cynical edge to our TV dramas, but there is still a great appeal to the glossier side of the street presented in primary paint-box hues. Something of a guilty pleasure in climbing the shiny skyscraper towers of LA, to spend an hour with the chosen suited, and immaculately hair styled few. The grimier realities of life are kept at arm’s length, down below on the city streets, and appear only as grist for the legal mill, and as moral dilemma for the occupants of neatly carpeted courtrooms, and Miami Vice style law firms.
Each week, the law firm of ‘McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney & Kuzak’ serve up the now familiar menu of professionals balancing the pursuit of wealth, with personal moralistic crusades. Dealing with such contentious matters as abortion, racism, sexual discrimination and the tobacco industry. We all like a good dramatic courtroom battle, and have our central Lawyer archetypes clearly defined as existing somewhere between the savvy-cool, jazz playing Jimmy Stewart in Otto Preminger’s ‘Anatomy of a Murder’, and the selfless, all American idealist Gregory Peck in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, but there’s something quite refreshing to the palette in having the full range courtroom styles and motivations presented before us. We have playboy, ‘take ’em for every penny’ divorce specialist Arnie Becker (Corbin Bernson).. fighters for honour and justice : Mark Hamlin (Perseus from ‘Clash of the Titans’) and Grace Van Owen, played by the exceedingly attractive Susan Dey (‘Partridge Family’, and the full gamut of iconic Tv shows, from ‘Hawaii-five-O’ and ‘Pettrocelli’ to ‘The Streets of San Francisco’).. green newbies Abby Perkins (Michele Greene), and Jonathan Rollins (Blair Underwood), out to prove their worth and make partner.. Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) fighting the working man’s corner, whilst carrying a fiscal chip on his shoulder, and trying to remain ‘street’ in a $1000 suit.. all conflicting and complementing each other in equal measure.
There exists a curious dichotomy in regards to the law-keeper in fiction. Society itself having something of an awkward relationship with it’s Policemen, Lawyers and Judges, whereby any individual who is given the power to affect other’s lives, will naturally come under some form of distrust or social criticism, but Cinema & Tv tend to play both sides of the fence with equal fervor. When we have a central protagonist who holds a position within the law, they become a champion for the rights of man, and stretch their jurisdiction to the limit in search of the elusive truth. Lawyers become detectives, and battle the system as much as any individual foe. These characters tend to operate alone, from cheap offices downtown, or hold their personal mission in higher regard than their own lives. 70’s Tv lawyer ‘Petrochelli’ exemplifies this, fighting for the rights of others, whilst unable to construct the very walls of his own home. ‘Ironside’ bound to a wheelchair, but standing tall against the lawbreakers.
“Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?!”
Memorably in cinema we have Al Pacino fighting to keep his very mind in ‘..And Justice for All’, and the great Charles Laughton risking ill health to pursue justice to the bitter end, in ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ ( protected from his own exhaustive determination by the wonderful Elsa Lanchester). Conversely, comedy belittles the Lawyer (please seek out Hancock’s parody of ‘Twelve Angry Men’), and general dramas that have brushes with the law, hold the lawyer up for suspicion and ultimate reprisal. LA Law gathers together every lawyer type imaginable, and presents them all under the same roof for observation. Curiously this law firm setting is a rare choice for Tv series, despite the more than ample scope for drama. The only other example that comes to mind is Ally McBeal, which in many ways is the 90’s daughter of it’s 80’s ancestor, and travels as much into psychoanalysis self-inspection than the usual legal investigation.
By presenting it’s characters from a collective, LA Law manages to give us a fully rounded perspective on the business of defending and prosecuting, with a wide range of styles and personal motivations. Co-creator Steven Bochco penned many of the staples of 70’s & 80’s Tv drama, including episodes of such heavyweights as Ironside, Columbo, Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.. whilst fellow team-mate Terry Louise Fisher, brought us ‘Hooperman’ and that great clarion call for female lead roles ‘Cagney & Lacey’. All of these elements are present in LA Law, and rather suitably these two co-creators fell out during the production of Season 2, and.. you guessed it.. took each other to court. I wonder if they represented themselves before the Judge?
~ LA LAW Season 2 will be released by Revelation Films on the 23rd April, 2012 ~