*** ½ Out of 5
Premiere Date: September 15th, 1986
Starring- Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey, Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Alan Rachins, Michele Greene, Jimmy Smits, Michael Tucker, Susan Ruttan and Richard Dysart
(I’ll be breaking down the first season in two blogs since it would be much too long for 1 blog).
L.A. Law ran for 8 seasons (1986-1994) on NBC and was one of the most successful shows of all time winning various awards during its run. The series was created by Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) and Terry Louise Fisher. Season 1 of L.A. Law was very good, but the show was developing during its first season and while there weren’t any episodes I would say were poor, but some were better than others. In my opinion through the first 5 seasons the show would get better and better and I personally find seasons 4 & 5 amongst the best seasons any show had. Season 6 struggled in the first half, but had a great 2nd half, but all that is for another review. I don’t wanna undersell the first season, which again was very good, but between the first 6 seasons, perhaps this might be the weakest, but again its still a terrific season that was still finding its formula for success and during the first season it very much hit its stride and became a great season.
L.A. Law holds up as a powerful drama and while certain cases may not be as controversial as they were in 1986, but for the most part L.A. Law still packs a punch with subject matters that I think will always remain relevant. What I love about L.A. Law is the moral side of the show. There are times the lawyers represent someone know they is guilty, but its their job to give that person a fair representation. And I believe in that as well due to the fact what’s to stop an innocent person from not getting a fair trial?
Some of the plots range from light to serious. We follow a group of lawyers at McKenzie-Brackman-Chaney & Kuzak. The firm is lead by senior partner Leland McKenzie and new to the firm are Abigail Perkins (Greene) and Victor Sifuentes (Smits).
While the shows focuses on all the characters I’d say Michael Kuzak (Hamlin) would be seen as the lead. The Pilot episode has Michael Kuzak defending a man who along with two others raped a woman. Each suspect has their own lawyer and the guy Kuzak is defending, his father has put a lot of money into the firm and Kuzak has little choice, but to defend him. Like most rapes cases the victim is put on trial and while one lawyer is attacking her its clearly bothering Kuzak. L.A. Law is quite interesting in the morality aspect since like in this case, Kuzak knows the guy is guilty, but he has to do his job and as he says “I may not always believe in the client, but I have to believe in the system”. In some episodes they win their cases, but helped someone they know is guilty go free, which is something rarely seen in these kind of shows and at times they truly believe in their client only to find out they were wrong and this does have an effect on the characters.
Within the first 11 episodes the show was strong, but there was potential here for the making of a classic show. Some of the main plots revolve around Kuzak meeting ADA Grace Van Owen (Dey) and my only problem is they fall for each other too quickly. Most of their scenes are Kuzak flirting and asking Grace out and she keeps saying no since she’s engaged to a man she likes, but doesn’t love. Episode 5 Simian Chanted Evening has Kuzak crashing Grace’s wedding in a gorilla suit in a quite funny ending and that episode is the start of their relationship, which would play a major role through the first 5 seasons (Hamlin would exit after the 5th and Susan Dey after the 6th). However their relationship would again play a major role in the 2002 L.A. Law TV movie.
Another relationship being developed in the first few episodes is between Anne Kelsey (Eikenberry) and Stuart Markowitz (Tucker) and while they seem like an unlikely couple on the show, Tucker and Eikenberry are actually married in real life. Another plot has both hoping to make partnership at the firm.
Arnold ‘Arnie’ Becker (Bernsen) is the sleazy womanizer who more often than not gets involved with his clients, which causes some jealousy from Roxanne (Ruttan) who is in love with Becker. While its implied its made more clear when Becker gets dumped by a woman he actually liked. Becker is kind of arrogant, but yet still likable and we do see a softer side of him at certain times during the season. The story between Roxanne and Becker would be pivotal in future seasons. Another plot with Becker has his parents getting a divorce and both want him as their lawyer.
Abby Perkins is getting a divorce from her husband who is abusing her physically and mentally and she hires her co-worker Arnie Becker. Abby’s husband ends up abducting their child and Abby is frantically trying to find her son while also focusing on her job.
Victor defends a 13-year old girl accused of killing her brother who she says was raping her and as Victor digs deeper he finds out her father was sexually abusing both her and her brother.
Kuzak represents a man on death row for raping and killing a woman and also killing her husband. Kuzak takes the case since he’s opposed to the death penalty. He than learns the arrest and confession may not have been legal and gets the man out on bail. This was quite interesting as Kuzak angers some of his co-workers and even Grace by defending the guy and getting him out. As much as I loved Kuzak as he’s generally good person with a lot of strong morals he could be a little self righteous in his beliefs. But he believes in the law system and even though the guy was guilty what will stop others who are innocent from getting a fair trial? Though when all is said and done Kuzak confesses to Grace that if this guy committed another rape and or murder he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.
After a dispute with Leland, Victor considers leaving the firm.
Douglas Brackman (Rachins) is an insensitive jerk who’s out for money and always trying to save a penny. However rather than dislike Douglas you can’t help but love him as Alan Rachins in such a terrific actor and a lot of the lighter stuff on the show involves Douglas. We learn Douglas is a slumlord though he had no idea on the conditions these people were living in and we see that despite his antics he is a caring person. There is a slight change in Douglas where he’s a lot more polite though it thankfully doesn’t last long as soon he’s back to the classic lovable jerk.
Through the first 11 episodes L.A. Law was a terrific mix of drama and comedy, but it also had its ups and downs during this time as well, but the potential was clearly there. After the Pilot, which in my opinion is one of the most gripping episodes of any series I’ve ever seen, is when it struggled a little bit in finding its identity, but soon enough L.A. Law begins to hit its stride and becomes a powerful and gripping show and its easy to see why it was so acclaimed.
Its quite difficult to pick a favorite character since all of them are terrific. But if I had to pick it would be either Michael Kuzak or Douglas Brackman.
Here are my ratings for the first 11 episodes.
Episode 1: Pilot- **** ½
Episode 2: Those Lips, That Eye- ***
Episode 3: The House of Rising Flan- ***
Episode 4: The Princess and the Wiener King- ****
Episode 5: Simian Chanted Evening- ***
This was the first episode written by David E. Kelley who would write 68 episodes of the series and ended up becoming the main creative force behind the show and would exit after the 5th, but with subpar reviews for season 6, both Kelley and Bochco returned for the 2nd half of season 6 and got the series back on track and both would again exit after the 6th.
Episode 6: Slum Enchanted Evening- *** ½
Episode 7: Raiders of the Lost Bark- **** ½
In someways this was a turning point for the series. While maybe not every episode that followed was great, but this episode is the kind L.A. Law would be known for as its both dramatic and funny.
Episode 8: Gibbon Take- *** ½
Episode 9: Venus Butterfly- **** ½
Episode 10: Fry me to the Moon- *** ½
(Becker’s mother is played by Corbin Bernsen’s real life mother Jeanne Cooper best known from her time on the Young and the Restless).
Episode 11: El Sid- *** ½