Picks and Pans Review: L.A. Law

UPDATED 09/15/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/15/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Mon., Sept. 15, 9 p.m. ET)

Shakespeare would be proud. It was he who suggested killing the lawyers first. L.A. Law does the next best thing: making them suffer. From the start the show pillories and pummels most of its attorneys, exposing them as greedy, unprincipled slime. Which is rousing good fun to watch. Corbin (Ryan's Hope) Bernsen plays a dastardly delight of a divorce lawyer. He has personalized license plates: "LITIG8R." He sells suits like a cheap tailor. He finds a colleague dead, slumped over the tax code, and says: "I have dibs on his office." No Perry Mason, he. But Bernsen is only comic relief. LA. Law concentrates mostly on ugly, oily reality. Harry (Space) Hamlin defends a scum accused of rape. "It wasn't exactly Romeo and Juliet," the criminal says of the crime. The victim, guest star Alfre Woodard, is dying of leukemia, and one of Hamlin's colleagues tries delaying the case until "she either quits or dies." In court these lawyers attack poor Woodard. When she protests, the judge yells at her: "I'll hold you in contempt." And Woodard shouts back: "The feeling is mutual!" Moments like that make you want to cheer—even if you are cheering against our halls of justice. L.A. Law comes from Steven (Hill Street Blues) Bochco and you can see the pedigree: overlapping dialogue and plots; quick shifts of mood—from a jail cell to a funny funeral; and an odd ensemble of characters. Sometimes the show does get too gritty for its own good. But it also has fine writing, good acting, snappy direction, generous imagination and daring irreverence. It's not easy to watch L.A. Law. But it's also hard not to watch. Sounds like a rave review? Keep reading. L.A. Law's two-hour pilot is seriously flawed. After slamming lawyers, the show lets them off the hook with cheap, easy sentiment. Hamlin helps torment Woodard, then gives her a gooshy speech about The Law: "I may not always believe in the client, but I have to believe in The System." And they hug. There are other frayed strings in the story; watch the party scene and you'll see what I mean. But like a lenient judge, I'll give L.A. Law the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Bochco & Co. ran out of gas; maybe two hours is too long for such a tightly packed show. So for now, with a major minus, I'm giving LA. Lawan: A—

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