Published May 20, 2014Few series captured the zeitgeist of the '80s as well as L.A. Law. It was a hit the moment it debuted in 1986, when Ronald Reagan, greed and big hair ruled America. Those surface qualities date L.A. Law, but what riveted viewers then — and survives today — were the issues that L.A. Law dared to raise.
Big tobacco, insider trading, rape, age discrimination and abortion were some of the cases that the high-end law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak argued in court, passionately yet eloquently. In season two (arguably the show's peak), they defend a woman who killed her rapist, and prosecute a child who murdered his abusive father. In the season finale, James Earl Jones guest stars as a lawyer playing the race card in a murder trial (preceding the O.J. Simpson case by several years).
Sure, L.A. Law suffers from cheesy jokes and lapses into melodrama. After all, it was a network series. However, it pushed the boundaries of lawyer shows and network dramas as a whole. Credit goes to co-creator Stephen Bochco, the visionary show-runner of Hill Street Blues, who injected realism into the tired genres of cop and law shows. For starters, Bochco's casting was diverse and ahead of its time, including multiple people of colour and women, as well as a mentally disabled clerk. The series launched the careers of Jimmy Smits (Dexter), Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, and boosted those of Harry Hamlin (Mad Men) and Susan Dey.
This DVD set includes the original 4x3 fullscreen episodes that were broadcast in 1987-88, so the visual imperfections will be obvious on today's HD TVs. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features, though all 20 episodes are included, clocking in at a staggering 17 hours. (Shout! Factory)