Put simply, Murder One is the most fascinating, intense and riveting courtroom drama series ever to hit the screens. In lesser hands than Bochco’s it might have been deadly dull – 23 episodes to cover one trial – but the DVD is as the original TV series was, pulsatingly addictive. Sadly, following one case over that period led to confusion among viewers, to the detriment of ratings. A great shame.
The brilliance of this compelling courtroom drama is down to a combination of brilliant scriptwriting, skilled direction, amazing cinematography (beautifully explained in the making of documentary) and incredible acting. Daniel Benzali holds the series together with a finely nuanced performance, much of it communicated through soft voice and subtle body language (the lovely twist of his head to indicate scepticism, for example), but his defence attorney Ted Hoffman is matched every step of the way by the charming and masterful arch villain, Richard Cross as played by the brilliant Stanley Tucci. How do you combine utter civility while being totally creepy? Watch Tucci and find out! In fact, the whole ensemble cast rarely puts a foot wrong in this epic series.
Where it went wrong was simply assuming American audiences could keep up. They demanded ever longer “previously in Murder One” flashbacks, which destroyed the continuity of the series. Sure, you need to keep your eye on the ball but in reality this is not so complicated. Even the use of legal jargon (similar to the medical jargon in House) is not designed to fog the clear underlying issues – and if anything they complement the drama to a grandly orchestrated effect. There are cliches that turn up (as indeed they do in real life (eg. Hoffman’s previous affair with Judge Bornstein), but even sensitive issues like the end of Hoffman’s marriage are handled with surprising delicacy and dignity.
However, where this series wins hands down over its competition is in the rising tension. Who killed Jessica? Was it Neil Avedon, in a fog of drugs and alcohol? Was it Richard Cross, for his own nefarious and machiavellian motives, or maybe the suave rape suspect Eduardo Portalegre, or another member of the sinister characters lurking on the fringes?
Trust me, this series ratchets up the tension better than even Hitchcock could have achieved. It is a work of art… which makes the decline into series 2 and the termination of Murder One by the network all the sadder. Thankfully, we can still watch the genius of series one on DVD! 🙂
PS. This extended review makes for fascinating reading. And I agree that the less said about series 2, the better!
PPS. The opinion of a friend on series 1, though I take this theory with a pinch of salt:
The writers wrote the show as one series. The intended murderer was one of the main characters. When the show proved to be a hit, the network made the writers change the end and alter who the murderer was, as they wanted the intended perp to be in the second series. That is why the ending was such a damp squib and why the second series was shit.