Sunday, May 20, 2007

today : I endure a trial

It's nostalgia that made me buy a DVD of Murder One. In 1996, when it was broadcast it was considered ground-breaking. The first time that an American Law or Police show had followed a single case throughout a whole season.

I enjoyed watching it again, not least because of the parade of recognisable actors. There was
Mary McCormack - Kate Harper in her previous incarnation as Justine Appleton. There was Gregory Itzin as the slimy DA, before he ran for governor and then ended up the slimy President in 24 season 4. There was Toby Ziegler as a suicidal outed professor. There was Stanley Tucci before he made Big Night and joined the ranks of the fascinating and reliable supporting actor in any number of films and TV shows.

I also enjoyed the
plinky-plonky Korg M1 faux baroque music and the computer graphics in the titles.

Before Murder One the idea that people could concentrate throughout a whole season was unheard of. In this way it was a landmark in that it paved the way for the fantastic
longform drama that we see today. It even, arguably, changed the landscape in that it took risks and shattered previously orthodox formulae sacred to TV. The idea of taking risks became an orthodoxy.

Yet all the way through you can see
Bochco and Milch tweaking, making mistakes and sometimes making it up as they went along. I don't think, for example, that they knew the ending when they started. There is also a really noticeable shift from a long-form tale that still encapsulated the parallel one-hour case in the early episodes. Around Chapter 10 the focus zoomed in on the Avedon case alone, leaving some loose ends from previous chapters. It was like a decision had been made to go with it and see what happened. Hey! the show was popular and feted let's see what it can really do. Even the voiceover changed to a recap of the whole case thus far and from then on each episode starts with a recap that allows people to join up late and still have some idea of what was going on.

Dramatically there are aspects to the show that are wooden and repetitive. The action is too often confined to Ted's office, with people parading in and out to enact exchanges with our
tonsorially challenged hero. It is pretty hard to set a talky law based plot anywhere other than lawyers' offices and courtrooms, but later series took on the challenge of mixing up locations and moving the action at a much quikcer pace. It's also fairly quaint how the recaps of the plot get longer and longer as the series goes on. I guess at the time it was thought that people needed help to follow a convoluted plot. What the people behind 24 have learned is that the more complexity the better, and that people positively enjoy the knottiness. But I guess they learned that, in part, from Murder One.

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