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Sunday, February 23, 2014

'L.A. Law.' S1 DVD: Steven Bocho's Order to His 'Hill Street Blues' Law

L.A. Law: Season One
Shout! Factory's February 25, 2014 six-disc DVD release of the 22-episode first season of the 1986-1994 drama "L.A. Law" begins a particularly "Bocho" Spring for Shout!.  This company is following this release up with a May 20, 2014 release of the second season of this former member of NBC's "Must See" Thursday night lineup.

Shout! is also releasing a complete series set of "Law" creator Steven Bocho's wonderfully gritty police drama "Hill Street Blues" on April 29, 2014.

"Law" centers around the professional and personal lives of the partners and associates at the "white shoes" Los Angeles law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney, and Kuzak. The portrayals of power struggles and personality conflicts in the office and the legal disputes of the clients that these "professionals" represent ring generally true to those of us with a legal background.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, from an early first-season episode provides both an excellent sense of the blend of office relationships and legal tactics that characterize "Law." It also touches on Sifuentes' apparent furniture fetish.

A scene from another episode in which the response of a group of law students to senior partner Leland McKenzie advocating free legal aid consists of grilling him about the compensation that they can expect on graduating is particularly recognizable to legal professionals.

A small percentage of terminology, such as sua sponte, may beyond the understanding of the average viewer. This does not diminish the incredible entertainment from watching the attorneys (mostly) skillfully present legal arguments that (mostly) support the case of their client.

It is also refreshing to see clever PG-rated sexual innuendo in place of the cruder raunchy dialogue of today's programs. Separately referring to a sexual act as one that is normally described in reference to two numerals and stating a desire to not engage in behavior that justifies being called a two-word phrase that ends with a word that ryhmes with "freezer" are prime examples of this witty wordplay.

Watching the first-season episodes nearly 30 years after they first aired is akin to attending a 30-year college reunion after not seeing classmates in the interval. The overall experience is very positive and the interaction enjoyable, but you find that your memories are a little distorted.

The studs are less hunky and a little more chunky then recalled, the cool clothes and stylish 'dos look dated, and the decor goes from "to die for" to making you want to die from embarrassment.

The pilot strikes a good balance between introducing the characters to the audience and getting right down to business. A hostage situation develops early in the episode, senior partner Chaney is discovered dead in his office, and summer associates who are working on a trial (of course, pun intended) basis are sweating out the decision regarding which, if any, of them will receive an offer of permanent employment.

This episode also brings Deputy District Attorney Grace Van Owen, played by "The Partridge Family's" Susan Dey and public defender Victor Sifuentes, played by Jimmy Smits, into the McKenzie Brackman universe.

Another notable development in this episode is the commencement of the romance between associates Ann Kelsey and Stuart Markowitz, who are respectively played by real-life spouses Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker.

The more compelling legal issues that episodes from the first half of the season raise include whether a man should be held criminally liable for a mercy killing of his partner who is dying from AIDS, whether a flaw related to convicting a man who is almost certainly guilty of a series of horrific crimes justifies setting him free, and the right of a man to be frozen after his death.

On a more general level, the first season of "Law" contains more than a fair share of classic moments from the show despite the fact that a despised attorney getting the shaft comes later in the series. Early stand-out events include a warped variation of the penultimate scene of the classic '60s film "The Graduate" and the introduction of the highly effective sexual technique known at the Venus butterfly.

This season is notable as well for its guest stars; seeing '70s sitcom actors Bill Macy and Harold Gould in serious roles is fun even if Macy's character is simply a wilder and more perverse version of Macy's Walter Findlay from "Maude."


Seeing Boyd Gaines, whose first television role is a sweet goofball on the sitcom "One Day at a Time," play a not-so-nice guy in a recurring "Law" role is a bit more jarring than watching his fellow CBS comedy veterans in their "Law" parts.

Further, the dramatic black actresses Alfre Woodard and CCH Pounder have prominent roles in back-to-back episodes. 

Shout! supplements these episodes with an impressively large collection of recent interviews with everyone from Bocho to Larry Drake, who plays Benny the mentally challenged office worker.

The final verdict regarding the first season of "Law" is that it provides a good time capsule of the era and provides a strong foundation for the future seasons.

Anyone with questions regarding "Law" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.