Murder One: The Complete First Season

Murder One: The Complete First Season
Once in a while, television execs will take a chance on a high concept program that doesn't fit the episodic inevitability of television and actually requires of its audience some thought, commitment and even some actual attention. These days, that throne is occupied by Kiefer Sutherland's string of bad days on 24 and by the dystopic island on Lost, but in the mid-'90s, Murder One owned that spot. Drawing from the ratings loyalty of Law & Order — and the fact that television has always vilified and celebrated all aspects of the legal system — Steven Bochco (L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues) conceived a 23-episode single season story arc that would cover only one murder trial, from crime to appeal, through the eyes of a defence attorney. In part drawing from the O.J. Simpson trial, its central defendant is a young, drug-addicted movie star accused of raping and strangling a 15-year-old party girl. By necessity its plots are labyrinthine, its red herrings numerous and its pacing terribly slow, especially by modern television standards. But Murder One is also a beautifully written and acted show that revels in the dramatic depth of the legal process. Freed from the need to resolve cases in under 40 minutes, Murder One explores its intricacies — and on a reasonable timeline as well. It's certainly more accurate that a murder trial takes a full year than be resolved in an episode or two. The other great advantage to this format is the play it allows for a strong supporting cast to evolve. Headed by defence attorney Ted Hoffman (Daniel Benzali), the show features a large number of excellent character actors who would become better known later on: Patricia Clarkson plays Hoffman's long-suffering wife; Stanley Tucci takes the critical role of Richard Cross, a multi-millionaire with intricate ties to the murder's protagonists; Dylan Baker plays a grumpy detective. Familiar guest stars pop up regularly: Brittany Murphy, Tia Carrere, Richard Schiff, Miguel Sandoval and Moon Unit Zappa all appear in at least one episode arc. Looking back at this 1995 to '96 season, it's hard to imagine the show ever getting off the ground. After all, it's smart and well-written but very talky, complicated and difficult to follow. By the end of the show, the "previously" updates require up to five minutes of exposition to make sure the various threads have been touched upon. But on DVD, away from commercials and under no obligation to wait a week for the next instalment, Murder One is some seriously addictive TV. One note though: enjoy this special season treat. Although the show was picked up for a second less successful season, the single trial concept was ditched in favour of three-episode arcs that satisfied neither the casual viewer nor the season one addict. This is one anomaly of television that deserves to be cherished. Plus: making of, two episode commentaries. (Fox)