Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nascent Form

I just finished watching the complete first season of Picket Fences on DVD (and was dismayed to realize that there is, as of now, no Season Two!). I watched the show when first aired, but only sporadically, and later in its run - I have dim memories of starting to watch with the "freezer murders" arc.

What is so fun about watching Picket Fences now is seeing all, or nearly all, of David E. Kelly's quirks and tropes forming before our eyes. What starts out as a portrait of a small, homey, yet quirky town very quickly becomes a platform to dive into the issues of the day - transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and many others. And for every one of these issues, the town's sole judge (played beautifully by Ray Walston) gets to, sans jury, opine and rule. Contrived? Of course. But it isn't as if Kelly was suggesting it as anything but a construct that, once accepted, allowed him to tell these stories through the single microcosm of the town of Rome.

Other Kelly tropes quickly became evident as well. The singing. (Through Fyvush Finkel, much better than I recalled as the outsized Douglas Lambau). The twisty murder mysteries. (We see the Practice trick of having someone using the court to get away with murder a few times). The nerdy, romantically longing nebbish. The deft mix of melodrama, comedy, and pathos. The favorite actors. (Richard Kiley. Jamey Sheridan.)
What also struck me was how old-fashioned the series already feels. Long credits, with a prominent theme that gets trotted out every episode. Very few serial traits (all story arcs are tied up in a single episode). Characters making soapboxy speeches, of the kind that you rarely see anymore. Slow-moving edits and camera-work. It, quite frankly, made me feel very old.
Until Whenever


Roger Owen Green said...

I was very fond of it when it was on, but haven't seen it since. It might not stand up.

On the other hand, people often criticize a show such as Hill St Blues for doing what other shows might have used as a lauching pad for their innovations.

So Picket Fences will keep a warm place in my heart (esp. Ray Walston), but maybe I'll not see the DVD.

bill said...

Ray Walston -- we were watching Popeye the other night ($5.50 rack at Target) and there he is. Also a working actor's actor. First half of his career has a solid collection of movies and he never stopped working, even if all he had was "The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington."