Published Mar 10, 2014If there ever was a series that was the poster child for the 1980s, it would be L.A. Law. From the ubiquitous '80s sax in its theme to the unfortunate fashion, it captured the period so beautifully yet somehow didn't make it onto DVD until now.
Created by Steven Bochco (who was still riding high from Hill Street Blues) and Terry Louise Fletcher, it was set at McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney & Kuzak, a law firm populated by a wealth of lawyers, and deals with both their professional and personal lives. The lawyers range from the sleazy divorce specialist Arnie Becker (played perfectly by Corbin Bernsen) and the young idealist Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) through to the feminist Ann Kelsey (Jill Eikenberry) and the clean cut Michael Kuzak (Harry Hamlin), although there's no shortage of other characters working in the office that made for a very rich canvas for the writers.
It was a hit right from the start and didn't really lose its appeal during its eight year run — it won the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy on four occasions, including this debut season. While Hill Street Blues was pure Bochco, L.A. Law has a healthy dose of David E. Kelley thrown into the mix. Kelley's initial involvement in the show was as a writer, and it's he that adds the glossiness and quirk that he brought to most of his later shows like The Practise and Ally McBeal. Thankfully, this is a more restrained version of the Kelley quirkiness, at least for the first few years until he took the reins at the midway point of its run.
One of the things that really put L.A. Law on the map was the way that it didn't shy away from taking on issues. Storylines featured spousal abuse, same sex partners, rape and AIDS and tried to put a more human face on the law, even if good didn't always triumph over evil.
It also spun multiple storylines together effortlessly, bringing in minor characters so the focus wasn't always on the glamorous lawyers, creating an almost perfect ensemble cast with a lot of depth. The chemistry between the cast is also fantastic. There are quite a few pairings that go together so naturally that even the storylines involving their personal lives don't feel artificial or become annoying. Most notable are real life couple Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, whose developing relationship during Season One is a definite highlight of an already eminently watchable show.
The only real downside to the set is that it really doesn't look very good. Naturally shows that were filmed in pre-HD days tend to be a little fuzzy around the edges, but this is really showing its age. Add to that some sporadic pixelation and it's a good thing that the show itself is still so entertaining, because it sure isn't pretty. Fortunately, big hair and shoulder pads do look better in soft focus.
The six-disc set is rounded out by an hour of new interviews with key cast members, and an exhaustive 90-minute retrospective documentary that covers its creation and run in a lot of depth. It might not bode well for extras in the remainder of the seasons, but it does make for an impressive initial set. (Shout! Factory)