TITLE: L.A. LAW - THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Release Date: February 25, 2014 (Shout! Factory)
Packaging: Viva Case
Number of Discs: 6
Number of Episodes: 22
Running Time: 1020 minutes
Running Time of Features: N/A
Audio: English Stereo
Subtitles and Captioning: Closed-Captioned
Special Features: "The Lawyers" and "The L.A. Law Story" (interviews)
One of the most critically acclaimed television series of the '80s comes to DVD for the first time (at least in the United States) in Shout! Factory's release of L.A. Law - The Complete First Season! The six disc set contains all 22 episodes of the debut season of the series that follows the law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney, and Kuzak as they deal with the hectic lives of high power attorneys in one of the America's largest cities. The series was co-created by Steve Bochco (previously known for his work on Hill Street Blues, and on his way to NYPD Blue after this series) and Terry Louise Fisher (Cagney & Lacey). While the first season (and entire series, for that matter) has been released in the United Kingdom as a region-free release, this newest release from Shout! Factory is a much better region 1 release, complete with fresh new interviews from the cast and much more care and attention given to the release.
We previously reviewed the region 2 release of this series which contained the same episodes as seen on this release, so we'll just recap that for this portion of the review.
The series begins with the double-length "Pilot," where firm partner Norman Chaney dies, and leaves behind a huge surprise which is exposed at his funeral. Meanwhile, Michael (Harry Hamlin) is defending a wealthy man accused of rape, and a new partner, Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) is about to join the firm. Michael becomes attracted to prosecutor Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey... yes, Laurie Partridge grew up to be a star of a legal drama) in "Those Lips, That Eye." Victor defends a girl accused of murdering her own brother in "The Princess and the Wiener King." In "Simian Enchanted Evening," Michael takes matters into his own hands to disrupt Grace's wedding (and succeeds). In the Emmy Award Winning episode "The Venus Butterfly" (an episode which was very bizarrely named after a, well, sexual technique featured in the episode), Grace prosecutes a gay man with AIDS accused of killing his lover in a mercy killing.
Arnie's (Corbin Bersen) latest divorce case involves his own parents in "Fry Me to the Moon," and meanwhile, Michael is about to take on one of his most stressful cases ever. In "Sidney, the Dead Nosed Reindeer," Michael is traumatized after an attorney kills himself... in the courtroom. Grace's latest prosecution case in "Beef Jerky" involves the theft of bull semen. Grace has already successfully won her murder case which she has been prosecuting in "Fifty Ways to Floss Your Lover," but she quickly learns that getting a man sentenced to death only makes herself a target for murder. Grace decides to take a little time off from work to relax after, well, nearly being murdered, in "Oy Vey, Wilderness." The first season ends with "Pigmalion," where Victor has doubts about his latest case.
The episodes on this set run at approximately the same length as the UK release, with some variation (up to 10 seconds or so, with this set usually being 10 seconds longer). None of this seems to be the result of any actual material being edited out though, but rather the result of how fade to blacks are tightened up. As far as I can determine, everything is unedited. Runtimes are as follows:
1. "Pilot" (1:37:09)
2. "Those Lips, That Eye" (48:38)
3. "The House of the Rising Flan" (48:37)
4. "The Princess and the Wiener King" (48:41)
5. "Simian Chanted Evening" (48:41)
6. "Slum Enchanted Evening" (48:47)
7. "Raiders of the Lost Bark" (48:41)
8. "Gibbon Take" (48:47)
9. "The Venus Butterfly" (48:45)
10. "Fry Me to the Moon" (48:40)
11. "El Sid" (48:41)
12. "Sidney, the Dead-Nosed Reindeer" (48:52)
13. "Prince Kuzak in a Can" (48:44)
14. "The Douglas Fur Ball" (48:41)
15. "December Bribe" (48:37)
16. "Beef Jerky" (48:42)
17. "Becker on the Rox" (48:45)
18. "Fifty Ways to Floss Your Lover" (48:43)
19. "The Grace of Wrath" (48:47)
20. "Sparky Brackman, R.I.P." (48:36)
21. "Oy Vey, Wilderness" (48:40)
22. "Pigmalion" (48:35)
The packaging for this set is very well done (and, for what it is worth, there is actually a credit for an advertising agency that designed this packaging... Shout! is going all out for this one). The set comes packaged in a standard Viva case, but there is also an outer cardboard sleeve (it has the same artwork as the Viva case). The cover has a cast photo, along with the series logo (on a California license plate, of course!). There are some episode snapshots, along with a brief description of the series on the back of the case. Inside, you'll find the six discs, which have the series license plate logo imprinted on each one. There are also episode descriptions and air dates printed inside of the case, which is very nice to see.
Menu Design and Navigation:
Shout! Factory has done a great job with the menus on this set, by creating menus that fit the show and really make you feel like you're about to watch L.A. Law (not all DVD sets do this). On the main menu, you get the special effect of a person closing a car trunk with the L.A. Law license plate (just like on the show), and the theme song plays as soon as it slams. Options on the main menu include Play All, a list of episodes, and Bonus Features. Each episode has chapters placed at all of the appropriate places.
Video and Audio Quality:
The video and audio quality on this set looks OK, but I don't feel like they've done much (if anything) as far as remastering the series. That would make perfect sense, though, because the series has had very limited airplay in syndication in recent years, and since Fox isn't releasing this series themselves, they don't have much of an incentive to do much remastering for it. But in all fairness, the series looks fine... it is just that it looks like an 80s series that hasn't been touched up much. There are mostly a few minor defects here and there, such as grain and debris (perhaps more than one would expect). Each episode on the set is closed-captioned.
The set includes a very nice collection of interviews on Disc 6. First up is "The Lawyers" (1:03:11), where we get to meet many of the characters one by one: Arnie Becker (Corbin Bernsen), Roxanne Melman (Susan Ruttan), Douglas Brackman Jr. (Alan Rachins), Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits), Michael Kuzak (Harry Hamlin), Grace van Owen (Susan Dey), Stuart Markowitz (Michael Tucker), and Ann Kelsey (Jill Eikenberry). That is almost the entire cast from the first season! Essentially, the feature is broken into several segments, and each segment is about the character, with some interviews and clips featuring the character (although Michael Tucker and Jill Eickenberry share their feature... they are married in real life, and have been for over 40 years).
The next feature is "L.A. Law Story." (1:28:42), which is a very detailed look back at the series "25 years later" (as Corbin Bernsen puts it, but really it is closer to 30 now). All of the cast members that participated in "The Lawyers" also participate in this feature, and are joined by Steven Bochco this time... although they're not all together for the interview. Instead, each cast member is shown individually. Maybe some sort of actual reunion would be nice to see in a future set. Of course, the mere fact that they managed to get so many of the cast members to participate in these special features to begin with is simply amazing.
I was excited for the UK release of this series a few years ago, but I cannot stress how much better it is to see Shout! Factory bring us a legitimate US release of the series. They did an excellent job with the series, and I'm hopeful that the previous availability of the UK release doesn't hurt sales for this set... this legitimately is a much better release. It is clear that Shout! Factory hopes and believes that this set will succeed. They've even gone so far as to buy promos for this set on some of the retro TV networks. The second season is already in the works, so it won't be long until we get to see more.
As for the series itself, it is a great legal drama. But as great of an executive producer as Steven Bochco is, it is important to note that this series also brought an unknown to Hollywood: David E. Kelley, who would actually become executive producer later in the series. He was a Boston attorney at the time, brought in for his legal expertise, but he had a career (and style) that took off on TV with later legal dramas such as The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and Harry's Law. I actually only began watching this series after watching some of his later series (including his series that weren't about the legal world), and you can definitely see his influence in this series, with the almost seamless blend of tragedy and comedy. For those who haven't seen the series, it should be clear that this is nothing at all like some of the legal dramas that would come to NBC in later years (in other words, five flavors of Law & Order). It was a serious, but sometimes fun, series that is worth checking out.
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 2.5/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 5/5
-- Reviewed by skees53 on 03/18/14
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