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Region 2 (UK) Edition
Charles Haid, Michael Fresco, Joe Ann Fogle, Jim Charleston
Daniel Benzali, Barbara Bosson,
Stanley Tucci, Jason Gedrick
“We know accused
people aren't always innocent.
Maybe not even usually innocent... and even though we know that, we
treat people like they're innocent until they've had their shot in court,
because it makes us better people. It civilises us to treat them
that way. Civility's important. That's why no-one in here called you a
self-deceiving fool until you opened your drunken mouth".
Murder One was a ground-breaking
legal drama series from producer Steven Bochco, creator of L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues.
Unlike most American series, it focused on a single trial - the
so-called Goldilocks Case - for the duration of the entire season. Other
shows sometimes featured arc stories that would play out over a handful
of episodes, but it was rare that a series would attempt something that so
defiantly tested perceived wisdom about viewer loyalty.
Fox has promoted the DVD release of Murder One as
if it was a forerunner to 24. There's some degree of similarity
between them, but it also presents a very simplified distillation of Bochco's
complex series. The Goldilocks Case (which concerned the rape and strangulation of fifteen-year old
victim Jessica Costello) forms the core of Murder
One, but there are many diversions into related cases and
investigations, exploring the often-seedy lives of some of its wealthy and
The initial investigation into the
Goldilocks Case quickly throws up a intriguing suspect: charismatic
multi-millionaire businessman Richard Cross (an outstanding performance by
Stanley Tucci). Cross owned the building where Jessica's Costello's body was
discovered, and admits to having a relationship with the victim's elder
sister, former prostitute Julie Costello (Bobbie Phillips). Cross is also
involved with another regular client of his pit-bull lawyer Theodore "Teddy"
Hoffman (Daniel Benzali), Hollywood bad boy Neil Avedon (Jason Gedrick),
who has a notoriously short fuse. Jessica Costello had
partied with Avedon the night she was murdered, and had called Richard
Cross when things got a little too wild. Cross claims that when he arrived
at the murder scene Jessica was already dead...
And those are, more or less, the
establishing events of the
first episode. From there onwards the story spirals outwards at a leisurely pace, exploring
alternate scenarios, red herrings, and little sex-lies-and-videotape
sideshows. What might have been rushed through in a couple of episodes of
a series like Law & Order is more thoroughly explored in
Murder One, resulting in
something with uncharacteristic depth and subtlety. The series also
has time to explore some of the moral ambiguities that defence and prosecution have to
confront daily: questions like how you defend a client you know to be
guilty, or how you deal with information that comes into your possession,
which might determine the guilt or innocence of your client, or the man
Every aspect of the trial is examined as
Hoffman prepares his case: office politics among members of the defence team, and a close examination of the jury selection process, for example.
Indeed, the trial itself doesn't start until Chapter Eleven,
half-way through the series! You certainly can't accuse Murder One
of being boring, however. It's labyrinthine plot, its characters and
atmosphere are gripping, and it's very addictive.
If you haven't seen the series for a while,
you might be surprised by a few familiar faces that appear. Several of the
regular cast members were members of Bochco's stock company of players,
including Brazilian-born Daniel Benzali (who had appeared in a few
episodes in L.A. Law, and a handful of early NYPD Blue
episodes), Hill Street Blues regular Joe Spano,
and Bochco's then-wife Barbara Bosson (another Hill Street Blues
veteran, who was nominated for an Emmy award for her role in Murder One).
Few people who saw the series will have
forgotten Stanley Tucci's quixotic performance as "evil incarnate",
Machiavellian multi-millionaire Richard Cross, or prettyboy Jason Gedrick
as the defendant, actor Neil Avedon. Veteran character actor Stanley Kamel
will probably have lodged in people's memories as the slimy psychiatrist,
Doctor Graham Lester. Co-stars John Fleck (as Ted Hoffman's fainty-creepy
personal assistant, Louis Hines), Mary McCormack (as unscrupulous lawyer
Justine Appleton), and J.C. MacKenzie (as Hoffman's motions clerk), all
made lasting impressions, marking them out as actors to keep an eye on.
No surprises there, then, but there are vivid guest appearances from
several virtually-unknown actors who have subsequently become relatively famous,
including Dharma and Greg's Jenna Elfman (as a prosecution witness)
and 8 Mile's Brittany Murphy (as slutty runaway Diane 'DeeDee'
Carson). Charlotte Ross, who appears as one of Doctor Lester's patients,
would go on to star in Stephen Bochco's NYPD Blue.
guest appearances include the late Roy Brocksmith (as an ineffectual
medical expert witness), 24's Tobin Bell (who plays a jailbird who
confesses to the murder), Anne Haney (who played Carter's grandmother in
ER, and appears here as a hard-nosed divorce lawyer), Richard
Riehle (as a weasely legal secretary soliciting a bribe for a corrupt
official), David E. Kelly regular Natalija Nogulich (as Hoffman's
attorney), and Star Trek - The Next Generation's John
de Lancie (a throwaway cameo, as a lawyer whose slippery morals reflect
The series wasn't entirely successful. Its
ratings sagged in the middle, and there were sometimes lengthy gaps
between episodes, which made following it difficult. Fox dropped an
episode from the original run, necessitating increasingly long and
involved "Previously on..."
segments at the beginning of subsequent episodes (which are retained on
It was, however, successful enough to be re-commissioned for a second
series, which failed to recapture the magical formula: Daniel Benzali, who
looked like becoming a major star, despite his unconventional appearance,
was replaced by the comparatively dull Anthony LaPaglia. There were
changes in the supporting cast, too, none of them for the better. The
second series featured several cases, each spanning a handful of episodes,
and none of them featured a villain as compelling as Richard Cross.
Incidentally, episode guides on the Net are
often screwed up, because one of the episodes was dropped from the series'
original US run (Chapter Nine). Many episode guides become muddled at this point, because they
don't account for the unaired episode. To complicate things further, the series
was originally shown in the UK (between March and August 1996) in
twenty-two parts: Chapter Twenty-One and Chapter Twenty-Two
were shown together, setting a pattern that would be followed for
the UK run of the show's second series. Sensibly, the DVD presents the episodes exactly
as their creators intended.
This is the first time Murder One
has been released on any home video format.
Like most American TV drama of the period
Murder One would have been shot on film, and then transferred to
video for editing. This makes it impractical to go back to the original
source elements: unless you have deep pockets, you're stuck with using
contemporaneous video transfers. Luckily the master tapes used for the
Murder One DVD release are generally in pretty good shape. However,
this isn't a feature film, and it's evident that it wasn't made on a
feature-film's budget. Minor film or negative dirt speckles the film, but
very rarely to any distracting degree. If the film elements were to be
transferred again today, these impairments would be much more noticeable, because
the improved resolution that a state-of-the-art telecine transfer would
offer would show them up more clearly. (This is what happened to Babylon 5).
The picture certainly looks like it's come from an
analogue source (probably 1"), and
shows the usual artefacts associated with analogue video (including
underlying video noise and cross-chroma interference patterning).
Thankfully, if there's been any noise reduction applied to the image, it's
been carefully done. There's plenty of detail in the image: it doesn't look smeary, like the DVDs of
contemporary episodes of Star Trek - The Next Generation.
Picture quality is generally acceptable.
Well-lit scenes are usually strong and vivid. Scenes set in shadows are
sometimes a little noisy, but much of that must be attributed to a
cinematographer pushing the capabilities of the film stock. Black
levels waver a little from episode to episode, sometimes from shot to
shot. Black crushing is a problem with some scenes (particularly on some
of the recaps, which were presumably several generations removed from the
original negative). There are patches where the MPEG encoding probably isn't resolving all the detail from the available image, but there are no
distracting artefacts. The average bitrate is about 5.7Mb.s. Unless you're particularly fastidious, or have
unrealistic expectations, you should be happy with the DVDs.
The audio is presented in 2.0 format (at
192kbps). There are no real problems to report. Dialogue is almost
invariably distinct (even Mary McCormack's dialogue, which is twisted by
her very attractive accent and slight lisp!) The mix is professional, but
not elaborate. The music is used sparingly, and is faithfully reproduced.
It would have been easy for Fox to stint on
providing bonus materials for this set. After all, this isn't a show with a
vociferous and loyal fan-base, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and
The X-Files. Assembling many of the key cast members (including Daniel
Benzali, Jason Gedrick, J.C. MacKenzie and Mary McCormack) to contribute
to a twenty-five minute featurette, Making the Case: Murder One -
Season One, is more than fans of the series have any right to expect,
frankly. Other contributors to the featurette include producer / director
Marc Buckland and director Randall (Randy) Zisk. There are some important
contributors absent, most notably Stephen Bochco himself, surprisingly.
The featurette acknowledges the contributions of just everyone who worked
on the series. Special mention is made of the series' cinematographer,
whose work is truly exceptional. There's a fair bit of back-slapping, but
it seems well-deserved, and sincere.
Two episodes have commentary tracks:
Chapter Eight has a track by actor Jason Gedrick, and Chapter Fifteen
has a track by director Randall Zisk.
Gedrick's commentary is probably
best described as casual. There are a few sporadic insights, and some
amusing anecdotes, but generally the actor simply reacts to what's going
on on screen. It's also rather patchy, as the actor seems to get caught up
in merely watching what's going on. He explains some of the background to
the series, noting that the series had tough competition (it was up
against ER for much of its run), and the viewing figures flagged in
the middle (unsurprisingly, since there were gaps in the run, and it was
moved from its original slot), but it opened and closed with very
Randall Zisk's commentary is sometimes
hesitant, and rarely specific to the particular episode. In fact it's not
often about Murder One, but it does sketch out what a director does
on a episodic series, and how much time is allotted to each aspect of the
production. Zisk's credits include Lois and Clark, Millennium
and NYPD Blue.
The final disc in the set also includes a
six-minute Inside Look promotional featurette for 24 - Season 3;
a teaser trailer for Alien vs Predator; a trailer for the
forthcoming Helen Mirren / Robert Redford
/ Willem Dafoe kidnap thriller The Clearing; a generic advert for
The X-Files DVDs;
and a trailer for the 24 DVDs (which features the
completely-different US box artwork).
Fans of Bochco's other shows shouldn't
hesitate to buy Murder One. By any yardstick it's a remarkable
series, and one that stands up remarkably well, almost a decade after it
The DVDs present the series as well as
could be expected, and Fox has provided a generous amount of bonus
material to provide some additional value.
Fox is due to release the second season of
Murder One in October 2004, when a box set containing both series
will be released.