JAG or Judge Advocates General might have gone silent on our television screens in 2005, but it really remains with us in its spin-off NCIS. Both shows explore the world of military justice. Both shows are also the masterworks of successful television producer David P. Bellisario, who also brought us Magnum PI and Quantum Leap. The idea behind JAG was likely inspired by the film A Few Good Men. Most of us remember the “You can’t handle the truth” rant that Jack Nicholson delivers from the stand, but fans of the film rather enjoyed the rare look behind the Judge Advocate General’s office in our military. Like that film, JAG spends its time pretty much split in three directions.
Most of each episode is dedicated to the investigation of the particular case. For action junkies, this often means flying some sweet high tech aircraft. The show’s primary character, Commander Harmon “Harm” Rabb (Elliott) does a lot of the high flying investigations. He was once an ace pilot who developed night blindness which essentially grounded him.
The second element of JAG, of course, is the courtroom drama. Like Law & Order, the show takes us through a case from its beginning through to its court disposition. It is here that all of those legalese junkies got their fix each week. There were usually those “Perry Mason Moments” where a surprise witness or a late arriving key piece of evidence offers a suspenseful twist on the trial’s outcome.
Finally, there is more than enough time spent on the character’s personal lives. Here’s where JAG has always lost me. I find the soap opera carousel of who is sleeping with whom to be tiresome. This stuff is bad enough on a typical cop or law show, but there sure is a lot of hanky panky going on in spite of the assumed rigorous military regulations to the contrary. Honestly, these personal touches are nothing but distractions for what was otherwise a pretty solid legal show. Having the unique military setting already made JAG something different from all of the other shows out there. Concentrating on so much romance and flirtation only made it just like most shows out there. Just this kind of distraction can be found in the two part episode Boomerang. Here’s a story that has some very sweet possibilities. You have a sailor back from the grave and a 20 year old murder mystery. Harm and Mic (Goddard) go head to head. Unfortunately it’s Harm and Mic’s romantic feelings for Mac that get far too much play, and before long it’s a regular Days Of Our Loves love triangle.
John M. Jackson has the best role as Admiral Chegwidden. Fans of Bones will recall his appearances as Sam Cullen, the Deputy Director of the FBI. Coincidence or not, he was also Captain West in the aforementioned A Few Good Men. Catherine Bell looks like something out of a 1940’s film playing Sarah “Mac” Mackenzie. I’m not sure if it’s the hairstyle, makeup, or the soft light and color of the show that gives me that impression, but it’s one I just can’t shake. Trevor Goddard, who died of a suspected drug overdose in 2003, brought his penchant for playing villains to the lawyer role here. The cast, while not remarkable, was pretty solid, but so much relationship baggage got in the way, and JAG ended up never more than a good or average show for the 10 years it played.
Each episode of JAG is presented in its original broadcast 1.85:1 aspect ratio. At the time of airing you might not have been watching in HD, so these prints will be a welcome treat for you. While there is at times a bit of grain, the presentation is mostly pretty solid. The colors are often soft, but there seemed to be an intentional lean that way, particularly on interior scenes. At times the exterior stuff gets pretty bright, and colors find themselves nearly dead reference. There is an exception: The episode The Ghost Of Christmas Past is mostly in full frame format. This was a creative decision to set the flashback material apart from the routine presentation of the series.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is a little disappointing when you get to the more action packed elements of the show. It would be so nice to have some real zing and swoosh to the aircraft material. The courtroom stuff is served just fine by the presentation, however, and dialogue is always easy to hear.
The episodes are spread over 7 discs with never more than 4 episodes a disc. They are kept in slim cases holding 2 discs each (except #7).
Watching the season 5 set of JAG was a little hard for me. Although I’ve caught episodes from time to time, I was never a faithful follower of the show on air. I’ve also not seen any of the previous year’s sets. That means there’s a lot of history between these characters that likely makes the interactions that much more tiresome to me. If you know the history of these people, you are more likely, perhaps, to forgive these distractions. For that reason I do not recommend you begin with this set. If you’re not already up to speed, go back and try it from the beginning. I will say that in the midst of all of this kissy feely stuff it’s good to know that “If a crime has been committed, the perpetrator will be punished”.