Review for LA Law: Season 2
Fans of LA Law will be in seventh heaven, as Revelation Films bring Season 2 to us not long after the debut season. You'll have to make the most of your legal fix though, as season 3 is scheduled for July at the time of writing. Still, when a show's this good, it's worth waiting for. When I started watching season 1, I thought that I had originally missed out on those episodes, only catching the latter seasons on Channel 4, but I'm beginning to get déjà vu with some of the episodes in this collection, making me wonder if I didn't see them in a subsequent repeat. I actually love it when this happens with a show, that there is enough distance between viewings to almost erase it from the memory. That makes revisiting it now on DVD more like a rediscovery, as if I'm watching it for the first time all over again. With older eyes, I'm finding new things to appreciate about LA Law.
LA Law follows the trials and tribulations of a firm of lawyers, McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney & Kuzak. The cases that they pursue vary from the meaningful to the trivial, the personal to the whimsical, covering all aspect of law from criminal to civil, divorce to tax, corporate to entertainment. They have a diverse portfolio of lawyers in their ranks, ranging from the eager and idealistic defenders of justice, to the cynical mercenaries, and of course the occasional lawyer that has harassed clients quoting from Shakespeare. These varied personalities don't always get along in the boardroom, but they're always sure to make an impact in the courtroom!
Season 2 of LA Law is presented by Revelation Films across 5 discs, totalling 20 episodes, and this season sees the arrival of hot new associate Jonathan Rollins, as well as the return of Benny Stulwicz, who's now working as a messenger for the firm.
1. The Lung Goodbye
2. The Wizard of Odds
3. Cannon of Ethics
4. Brackman Vasektimized
5. The Brothers Grim
6. Auld L'Anxiety
7. Rohner vs. Gradinger
8. Goldilocks and the Three Barristers
9. Divorce with Extreme Prejudice
10. Full Marital Jacket
11. Gorilla of my Dreams
12. Hand Roll Express
13. Beauty and Obese
14. Petticoat Injunction
15. The Bald Ones
16. Fetus Completus
17. Belle of the Bald
18. Open Heart Perjury
19. Leapin' Lizards
20. Chariots of Meyer
I'm happy to report that the audio and video gets something of an upgrade from the first season, although in the case of the video it's not by much. There are also a few annoying glitches to put up with in this season, which the first season avoided. The 4:3 transfer is still that of an NTSC-PAL conversion, but compared to before, I found a little more clarity to the image, a lot less judder, and shimmer on fine detail was significantly reduced. LA Law is mid eighties US television, soft and low in detail, but these discs now bring the image up to how I remember the show looking on TV. Disappointingly, there is a videotape glitch (probably inherent in the original source material) which shows up 23:49 into episode 14, with a corresponding dropout in sound. There's also a flicker in the image 23:15 into episode 16.
The audio on the other hand gets a significant upgrade from season 1, and we now have a genuine DD 2.0 Surround English audio track, as opposed to the 2.0 mono of season 1. When the theme music starts playing, the stereo separation becomes immediately apparent, and the episodes get a lot more spatial separation as well. The audio has much greater clarity and fidelity compared to before, while hiss is practically absent this time around. Once again, there are no subtitles, but fortunately the dialogue is clear. Lawyers do tend to have better annunciation. But there are those glitches, and I heard the audio pop 27:22 into episode 7, 27:20 into episode 8, and 19:17 into episode 16.
If the first season of LA Law quickly found its groove, and set a high standard in its blending of procedural drama and soap, comedy and human interest, then season 2 hits the ground running, building on what the first season set out. It has the same ingredients as before, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that the creators are starting to play with these elements a little more. The comedy is a tad richer at times, the soap gets a little more melodramatic, and the variety of cases that are tried by the lawyers of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak get ever more inventive. That means that overall, there is a tad less consistency to the season, and the shifts from the absurd to the tragic can be extreme at times. It's ironic that I found it to be not quite as impressive as the first season, but by the same token, it's more enjoyable too.
That inconsistency shows in the first episode of the season, The Lung Goodbye, and if I was judging all 20 episodes on the strength of that one episode, then season 2 would be a disappointment. It's a 'message' episode, the sort of very special episodes that were so prevalent in eighties television. Here the message is one already covered in the first season, an anti-smoking message, and while the story in the first season was very interestingly done, the trite and hackneyed version that we get here does the show an injustice. Michael Kuzak prosecutes a tobacco company on the behalf of one of its afflicted customers, and we learn that it's personal for Kuzak as a relative of his died of lung cancer. Then to hammer the point home, Grace lights up a cigarette (for the duration of this episode she's a smoker, but it's never an issue thereafter), causing a conflict between the two. Thankfully this is the one poorly written low point of the series.
There are some changes to this season, most notably with the arrival of two new characters. Benny Stulwicz was actually introduced in the first season, a developmentally challenged adult who had been duped into robbing a convenience store. In this season he becomes a full time member of the staff at the law firm, working there as a messenger, and he rapidly becomes something of the heart of the firm. The other new arrival is associate Jonathan Rollins. Early on in the series, there was a character played by Mario Van Peebles, a lawyer who quickly left the firm, aggrieved at being the token ethnic, replaced by Victor, a Latino for Afro-American swap. The initial impression is that Jonathan will have the same sort of role in the firm, especially as he makes noises at his interview about not being interested in the money, and happy to take pro-bono work. Then the writers subvert all this by making him the epitome of the mercenary, lethal lawyer, with a killer instinct, dubious ethics, and with no scruples whatsoever. It isn't long before he's coming into conflict with the more idealistic lawyers in the firm, and the friction while he finds his place dominates his character arc in this season.
Another change is that while the character arcs, and soap storylines develop over the season, in these episodes, the legal storylines, the various cases that the firm handle, are short and sweet. Most last just one episode, and very few stretch beyond that. That's in contrast to the first series where cases lasting two or more episodes were more common. It also becomes apparent that while season 1 was fairly brimming with Hollywood's best and brightest as guest stars, as well as promising talent of the future, season 2 saves its bigger guns for the final few episodes, where you'll find names like James Earl Jones, Daniel O'Herlihy, Robert Davi, Ralph Bellamy, and Christian Slater.
As always, there's a great deal of variety in the cases that get prosecuted, from the trivial, and even comical, to the serious and socially relevant. There's everything here from inflammable pyjamas, attack with a prosthetic leg, to a victim of a human cannonball, and a food critic prosecuted for libel. More serious issues include thought provoking stories such as a black lawyer wielding the race card to try and get his client off, foreign dignitaries hiding behind diplomatic immunity to commit crimes, unscrupulous investors stealing the life savings from elderly clients, age discrimination in the workplace, the state forcing a terminally ill woman to have a caesarean to save her unborn child, and many more. LA Law always manages to entertain and provoke thought.
Of course it's the characters that entertain most, and I had forgotten how much LA Law was built on the relationships of its characters. Michael Kuzak and Grace Van Owen were the quintessential romantic pairing in the eighties, and it's still easy to see just how much chemistry they have on screen. They worked out most of their stress in the previous season, but that's all thrown in the air when Michael's ex-wife shows up again. The elopement at the end of season 1 for Stuart and Anne didn't quite work, and that leads to a whole lot of friction, as the two deal with their differences and try and arrange a wedding at the same time. They certainly have a lot of antagonism to work through, but it does lead to one of the more memorable on-screen weddings.
Jonathan Rollins quickly makes an impact, but many of his appearances in this season highlight the difficulty he has finding his place in the firm, his eagerness and mercenary nature often causing friction with those around him. But as the season progresses, we begin to see his human side a little more. This is also the season where the Benny Stulwicz rape trial takes place. The developmentally challenged employee gets picked up by the police when his description matches that of a suspected rapist. Back when I first saw this it seemed a big deal, a traumatic chapter in the story, which in my memory took place over several episodes. The character of Benny was introduced to challenge viewer attitudes and preconceptions about an oft forgotten part of society, and Benny's was the first such role in mainstream primetime drama. The rape accusation was a big deal, and certainly challenged my attitudes at the time. Surprisingly, the reality is that the story unfolds over the length of just one episode, and it's just one of many storylines in that episode.
Arnold Becker is still Arnold Becker, that self-contradiction, the womanising, mercenary divorce lawyer with a soft centre, and an affection for his secretary Roxanne that approaches family. He certainly has his fair share of antics with the opposite sex during this season, until the unspeakable happens, he falls in love. At the same time, Victor Sifuentes' love life continues to be bizarre, and he still falls for all the wrong women. He plays more of a role in the first half of the season, in the latter half he's mostly off screen, researching the most bizarre case that we only hear about during the staff meetings. Grace briefly quits the DA's office to become a mafia lawyer, Roxanne becomes involved in insider trading, it's all going on with the employees of the firm.
If there is one prominent character in this season, one arc which dominates above all, it's that of Douglas Brackman. This is the season where his marriage falls apart. It all starts so well for him, as gets a coveted position as a judge in small claims court. But his probity is challenged when he has an affair with the court bailiff. Given his wife Sheila's affairs, it's just another in the cycle of tit for tat between them, but it proves to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Then there is the discovery of his own father's infidelities, leading to the further discovery of half-brothers he never knew he had. And then he meets his father's mistress Rusty. The twists and turns in the life of Douglas Brackman are sheer entertainment, and just when you think his story can't get any more bizarre, it does.
The first season took a longer view with its story arcs as well as its character arcs, but in season 2 the story arcs aren't quite as cohesive. The imbalance between trivial and serious is more tangible, and it isn't as effective a whole as the first season was. Oddly enough it is more entertaining as a result, but it never quite impresses in the same way as that first season. It's still solid procedural comedy drama, and it's well worth picking up if you're a fan of eighties television.