Archive for May 20th, 2018

by Adam Ferenz

This series, based on the book and film of the same name, concerned the travails of a group of law students at an Ivy-League school, as they labored to prove themselves in their chosen profession, and to please the officious professor Kingsfield, played by John Houseman, who reprised his Oscar-winning role from the film. Starting out on CBS, the series ran for one season there, during the 1978-79 season, roughly covering the same material as the book and film, but with a slight emphasis on the lives of the characters, outside the classroom. When the series was picked up by Showtime, four years later, it became even more of an ensemble and balanced the stories between classroom and private concerns. The content was only slightly riskier than that, by then, starting to be found on network series in such programs as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. The series would end in 1986.

This is a series that even for when it arrived, was highly unusually. Always laconic, the series had rhythms seldom seen on American broadcast television. It also had a cast that was not traditionally “handsome” or “pretty” though nothing as extreme as what would be seen in much later programs like Homicide: Life on the Street. It was this lack of convention that made it a difficult series to pin down. Somewhat of a high concept, the series had a defined end-graduation from school. This was also a series which managed to cast both for and against type, unafraid to show people who you could believe might become lawyers, from the unconventional James Hart, who passes for the series lead, to the slightly schlubby Bell, who ends up one of Hart’s better friends.

Yet, the series never shirked from showing how school life impacted the students. The anxiety, the boredom, the ways sex and substances filled the hours between courses and occasionally fueled activities in and out of the classroom. Never prurient, nor prudish, the series was remarkably matter of fact in its approach to all things. It also followed a remarkably consistent path for its characters, from eager students, to “battle” tested new attorneys, ready to defend or prosecute. Sadly, the series Showtime run was long unavailable, and even now, only the first three seasons are on dvd. (more…)

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