Steven Bochco has amassed quite a nice little television empire over the years. He’s one of the most award winning producers in television history. He cut his teeth on Columbo and has never looked back. You know his work, or at least you’ve heard of it: Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue are the most famous of these works. Bochco wrote the book on the ensemble police and legal drama. He counts as his students Dick Wolf and David E. Kelley, both of whom got their start working on Bochco shows. He’s had a few misses, to be sure. Does anybody out there remember Cop Rock? I didn’t think so. But, it’s been a little while since Bochco has graced the small screen, so it was with some eager anticipation that I attacked the new DVD release of his latest series, Raising The Bar.
The series involves a group of young folks in the legal profession. Some work in the public defender’s office. Some work for the prosecution. The catch is that they were all college buddies and attempt to keep the camaraderie together outside of the courtroom. Needless to say, it doesn’t work most of the time, as their interests often conflict. The characters include: Jerry Kellerman (Gosselaar). Jerry’s a character you’ve seen a hundred times before. He’s young, rather unkempt, and too principled for his own good. Yes, the series starts out with him willing to go to jail on contempt charges before bowing down to the tyrannical judge. He often faces Michelle Ernhardt (Sagemiller) who is determined to prove she’s more than just a pretty face in the courtroom. She’s desperate for respect, so winning becomes something of an obsession. It doesn’t help that, as the series begins, Bochco has them in one of his trademark opposite sides romances that he appears to plant in every series he’s ever done. The two are often refereed by Judge Kessler (Kaczmarek). She’s a rather morally bankrupt individual with political designs of her own. She doesn’t appear to think that the courtroom is any place for such quaint ideals such as fundamental fairness or justice. Of course, that sets the stage for many of Jerry’s dramatic stands. The public defenders are led by Roz (Whitman), who is rarely in the courtroom and is more of an administrator and shoulder to cry on. Then there’s Richard Wooslsley (Sears). He’s the mandatory rich kid who is rebelling against his father’s establishment mentality. So he works in the public defender’s office instead of in his dad’s political machine. Charlie (Scarfe) is the judge’s clerk and attempts to be the conscience she doesn’t have on her own. He flirts with her to manipulate her but is secretly gay, which is going to cause its own special set of problems. It seems that Angel’s Gunn (Richards) kept the legal knowledge he received through a spell at the infamous evil law firm on Angel. He’s now Marcus McGrath, but make no mistake. He’s still Gunn. He’s the smartest of the group and the most unfeeling. He constantly wants to prove he can overlook race and poverty in his cases and so is extra tough wanting to put them all away. He’s the ace prosecutor here. The prosecutors are led by Nick Balco (Graham) who doesn’t think guilt or innocence should play a part in the equation. It’s a constant source of irritation to him that these young lawyers try so hard to be friends.
The first thing you notice is the Bochco influence in the credits. When I used the term empire, it wasn’t very far from the truth. The Bochco family has spread out to include several members of the clan in the production of this new show. You’ll also find members of the Bochco stable of actors and writers, most notably the series star Mark-Paul Gosselaar who was able to break out of his teen goof status with a good role on Blue. Unfortunately, while this is a rather good show, it doesn’t break any new ground, which was the hallmark of any new Bochco venture. I’m sorry to say that while the writing and acting really are top notch, you won’t go anywhere you haven’t been to a number of times. It’s all cliché by now, and you’ll be left with a sense of déjà vu all over again.
There are 10 episodes on a 3 disc set.
Each episode of Raising the Bar is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The picture looks every bit as good as the HD broadcasts on my satellite television system. Colors are outstanding, as is the level of detail. Black levels never fail to produce fine shadow detail. The animated episode carries incredibly bright colors. There isn’t any overt problem with compression artifact. This is always a very sweet picture presentation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works very well to spread out many of the show’s claustrophobic moments. While not extremely aggressive, you get a good sense of space with the ambient channels. Dialog is clear and always placed correctly compared with what’s on the screen.
Audio Commentaries: There are two featuring crew members on one and actors on another.
Sworn Testimony: (13:45) Co-creator David Feige was actually a working public defender who shopped the idea to Bochco. Both men talk about the initial negative response, but Feige was persistent, and eventually they got together. Cast and crew join in to describe their characters and the relationships.
Behind The Bar – After Hours Roundtable With The Cast: (13:16) The cast gather around on a stage and have an informal conversation about the show. Topics include auditions and their on/off screen chemistry.
This is both entertaining and solid drama, but it won’t make you go “WOW” as Bochco has been known to do. It’s a solid cast telling familiar tales. The show is back for another summer run on TNT, so that might be the first place to look, Mondays at 10:00. If you like what you see, there isn’t any reason at all not to pick up the first season on DVD. Or better yet, do both; after all, ”there are two sides to every case”.