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Series: Picket Fences

"This place is nuts!"
FBI Agent Donald Morrell

Welcome to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin where everyone knows everyone and the bizarre is an everyday occurrence. Created by David E. Kelley, the Emmy Award winning family/cop/legal/medical dramedy Picket Fences ran for four seasons and 88 episodes on CBS from 1992-1996 before it was cancelled for being a little too weird for its own good.

The show revolved around the residents of Rome, in particular the functionally dysfunctional Brock family headed up by the town Sheriff, Jimmy Brock. Sheriff Brock, along with his deputies at the Rome Sheriff's Department sometimes struggle to maintain order faced with such strange crimes and occurrences as cow udders exploding and a spate of people turning up dead in freezers. During it's tenure, the show also dealt with unusual (for the time) topics not limited to abortion, homophobia and LGBT adoption, transsexualism, racism, belief in God, medical ethics, polygamy, polyamory, adolescent sexuality, date rape, cryonics, the Holocaust, shoe fetishism, masturbation, spontaneous human combustion, and constitutional rights.

These days the show, rather tragically, doesn't quite have the devoted cult following that it really deserves to have due to the fact that only the first season has ever been released on DVD thanks to Executive Meddling and various legal battles.

Now with an added character page that could do with some more love.


This show provides one or more examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Matthew and Zach are often forced to get advice about the birds and the bees from Cool Big Sis Kimberly because their parents are too squicked out to be of any use.
  • Aggressive Categorism: The whole town are guilty of this at times, especially with their treatment of Frank the Potato Man and the black students from Green Bay in the third season.
  • Artistic License Gunsafety: Sheriff Brock ought to know everything there is to know about keeping guns secure at home, yet Zachary has no trouble retrieving Jimmy's pistol and pantomiming pot-shots at Matthew's attacker when no one else is around. Played completely serious, and chilling.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Kenny and Max.
    • A one-sided example would be from Jimmy and his ex-wife Lydia, much to Jill's chagrin.
  • The Big Board: The FBI and the Sheriff's Department are seen using one of these in "The Green Bay Chopper".
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: In the first season finale Max and Kenny help deliver a baby whilst the scene juxtaposes with the Brocks watching a jazz singer collapse mid-performance at a concert that Zach is performing in. Eventually averted as the jazz singer doesn't actually die.
  • Body in a Breadbox: A corpse was discovered stuffed into a dishwasher. Also, freezers. Lots of people get found in freezers.
  • Book Ends: The opening scene in the pilot episode and the final scene in the series finale both involve the townspeople all together at a public setting, the Town Player's performance of The Wizard of Oz in the pilot and the triple wedding of Max/Kenny, Carter/Sue and Wambaugh/Miriam in the finale.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: A comatose car crash victim is found to be pregnant even though she is a virgin. They find out her doctor is a religious fanatic who impregnated her through IVF without her knowledge. When she threatened to tell the police, he tampered with her car's brakes.
    • A friend of Kimberly's becomes pregnant even though she had previously claimed to be a virgin. She was having sex with her "father," actually her polygamous husband
  • California Doubling: Although set in Wisconsin, the show was filmed in Monrovia, California.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The show started out as a quirky, light-hearted Slice of Life, then morphed once into a Police Procedural involving the hunt for serial killers, then again into an Anvilicious courtroom drama. There's also how the show took quirky comedy concepts from its first few episodes and have them turn out to have a rather dark Reality Ensues payoff. That amusing Cloud Cuckoo Lander with some of the funniest lines in the show? Turns out he has Alzheimers, which eventually leads to a tragic downward spiral.
  • Christmas Carolers: If you're in Rome, Wisconsin and it's Christmas, you'll most likely be serenaded by 'The Wambaugh Multicultural Singers'.
  • Close-Knit Community: Rome is certainly one of those.
  • Continuity Nod: Characters that are only seen in one episode will often pop up later in the narrative, for example Frank the Potato Man in the first season episode of the same name who then reappears in season two's "Abominable Snowman" and season three's "Saint Zach".
  • Courtroom Antic: Used very often by Wambaugh. Usually subverted, because Judge Bone always called him on it.
  • Cross Over: The show crosses over with David E. Kelley's other show Chicago Hope in the episode "Rebels with Causes".
    • Interestingly the show was also originally going to have an episode crossover with The X-Files where Mulder and Scully would travel to Rome to investigate bizarre genetic experiments on cows but it never materialized because CBS and Fox wouldn't agree to it - the only traces of it existing are the Picket Fences episode "Away in the Manger" and the X-Files episode "Red Museum".
  • Cult: In the first season's "Nuclear Meltdown", Max investigates an obscure religious sect which she suspects of being a satanic cult.
  • Damsel in Distress: Seen a couple of times, notably when Kimberly gets kidnapped in the second season. Amusingly lampshaded by Max in the episode "High Tidings" when a crazy guy in a Santa outfit takes her and Ginny hostage and she snipes at him about how sexist it is that he chose the two female members of staff at the Sheriff's Department.
  • Death by Sex / Out with a Bang: How Carter Pike's mother ended up dying (subsequently of a heart attack soon after). Around Christmas.
  • Dinner and a Show: Whenever the Brocks have dinner guests. Wambaugh lampshaded it when urging another guest to accept an invitation: "Strange things happen when they eat."
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: A male teacher accuses a woman of raping him. The defense is based on the fact that the man climaxed. In the end, the woman is found not guilty.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Used a few times, most notably in the Halloween episode "Remembering Rosemary".
  • Driven to Suicide: A repentant pedophile who moves to town and gets chilly-to-hostile receptions from everyone, including Judge Bone his father.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-universe example. After Wambaugh tells an un-PC joke about Jews and Native Americans (during a funeral eulogy, no less), the local rabbi tries to have him excommunicated.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Everyone in Rome has problems.
  • Easy Sex Change: Subverted in "Pageantry" when the post-operative transsexual teacher explains to Jimmy the lengths that she had to go through to change her gender.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: The town of Rome has these in abundance including (but not limited to) the highly eccentric Parkes family (Mrs Parkes always disciplines her unruly daughter Cynthia by stuffing something, usually clean socks, in her mouth), the elderly Howard Buss who confesses to every crime committed in the town, local vagrant 'Frank the Potato Man', a pair of identical twins that finish each other's sentences, frog-obsessed Peter Lebeck who performs self-written musical numbers about his favorite amphibians at PTA meetings, palm reading pyschic police dispatcher Ginny, Laurie 'The Dancing Bandit' Bey, and of course, the audacious Bunny-Ears Lawyer, Douglas Wambaugh.
  • Facial Dialogue: Used frequently by most of the cast when they are shown reacting to the crazy antics of another character.
  • Family Drama: A large portion of the show is centered around the Brock family and their various dramas.
  • Fetish: The season two episode "My Left Shoe" deals with the town's Catholic Priest who, it is discovered, has a shoe fetish.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: "Frank The Potato Man" inverts this by having the guilty party DA Barnaby Wood deliberately trying to commit a crime (in this case, breaking and entering people's homes so as to take a bath for sexual kicks) when he believed the titular character (who's wrongly suspected of the crimes) would have an alibi (in this case, by being in police custody or under surveillance). Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out, as both times Frank had be released
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the season one episode "Thanksgiving", Max and Kenny have a conversation about masturbation and sexual fantasies whilst managing not to actually say the word 'masturbation' once.
  • Headbutt of Love: Seen a few times throughout the show, usually by Jimmy and Jill and Max and Kenny.
  • High Turnover Rate: Mayors of Rome have died from spontaneous combustion, being pushed into freezers, and gunshots. Others have gotten thrown into jail or run out of office for making porn.
  • I Never Told You My Name: A variation of this trope is used in "Be My Valentine" when FBI Agent Morrell realizes that his former colleague may be the 'Cupid Killer' because he references Morrell being sent a Christmas card by the said killer when Morrell never reported the fact to the FBI or told anyone else.
  • Interrupted Intimacy / Moment Killer: This happens a few times, most notably the entire Brock family bursting in on Kimberly having sex with her boyfriend in the first season and Rachel Harris bursting in on Max and Kenny in the second season. In the latter Your Door Was Open is inverted as it wasn't, Rachel used her key to Kenny's apartment to let herself in.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: "The Green Bay Chopper" has the Sheriff's Department and some FBI agents squabbling over the titular serial kidnapper who cuts off his victim's hands, who is believed to have killed his latest (making it a state rather than federal crime). At one point, Maxine draws her gun on the agents! This mostly goes away when they catch the guy, however.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Ginny Weedon portrayed by Zelda Rubinstein, who basically plays the same part that she did in Poltergeist. It never stopped her from complaining about little people stereotypes, though.
    • Also Peter Dreeb, who's not all that surreal in and of himself, but is introduced riding down the road on an elephant He and the elephant are running away from the circus where he was employed, and where Mr. Dreeb claims it had been abused
  • Locard's Theory: Used liberally throughout the show.
  • London England Syndrome: Rome, Wisconsin.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Frank the Potato Man, who lives alone in the woods and has a tendency to loiter around schools staring at the children. He gets suspected of breaking into the homes of teenage girls and bathing in their tubs while masturbating It turns out to be the popular, young, handsome District Attorney. Frank leaves Rome in disgust by the end of the episode.
  • Magical Native American: Averted in the episode "Rights of Passage" in which the local Chippewa tribe storm the courthouse and declare war on the town of Rome for approving plans to build a golf course on their sacred burial ground. The tribe are merely portrayed as human beings who are desperately fighting for their way of life to continue to exist and are never given the 'Magical Native American' treatment.
  • May-December Romance: In "Thanksgiving" Jill's father shows up to thanksgiving dinner with a beautiful 26 year old fiancee, much to Jill's horror. Eventually subverted as it's revealed that the fiancee is suffering from Cystic Fibrosis and Jill's father will most likely end up outliving her, not the other way around. Jill, eventually seeing the genuine love between them, ultimately tries to mend fences.
  • Mood Whiplash: Due to the 'dramedy' nature of the show it would often switch between serious, dramatic A-plots to more light hearted 'comedic relief' B-plots, often within the same episode.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: In this case, Wisconsin. Palm trees can also be seen occasionally.
  • Musical Episode: Whilst not being an outright musical episode, the third season finale "The Song of Rome" featured the town putting on a spring pageant and the various self-written and hilariously inappropriate musical numbers that Wambaugh tries to get into it.
    "It is now my chance to seize her, As her husband's in a freezer, One whack on the head, He's dead, And now she's mine."
  • Nosy Neighbor: Rome is full of them, whenever the Sheriff's Department are attempting to investigate a crime that is of local interest, it seems like the entire town converge on the station to find out what's happening.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The current mayor (Rome goes through a lot of them) always seems to fill this role, especially Mayor Bill Pugen in the first season who is so obsessed with the town's reputation and his prospects of being re-elected at the next mayoral election that he is constantly trying the stop the Sheriff's Department from openly investigating crimes that might reflect badly on the town.
  • Off with His Head!: The ultimate fate of the fifth mayor, Ed Lawson, who was killed by his wife.
  • Parental Incest: It initially appears like one of Kimberley's friends is having sex with her father. Her father is actually her husband, who's in a polygamous relationship with her and her "mother"
  • Patient of the Week: Seen by Jill, who has up-to-date knowledge of every disease and the latest treatments.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Tragically subverted in the case of Howard Buss who in a few early episodes is nothing more than the amusing crazy old guy who confesses to every crime committed in Rome, but later turns out to be suffering from Alzheimers and suffers one of the saddest fates seen in the show.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: The opening titles in the first season contained only Tom Skerritt (Jimmy), Kathy Baker (Jill), Costas Mandylor (Kenny), Lauren Holly (Max), Holly Marie Combs (Kimberly), Justin Shenkarow (Matthew) and Adam Wylie (Zach). The second season saw the addition of Fyvush Finkel (Wambaugh), Ray Walston (Judge Bone) and Zelda Rubinstein (Ginny). The third season then also added Don Cheadle (D.A. Littleton) and Kelly Connell (Carter) and removed Zelda Rubinstein after she left the show. The fourth and final season added Marlee Matlin (Laurie) and later removed Don Cheadle after he also left mid-way through the season.
  • Psycho Psychologist / Stalker with a Crush: Max gets herself one of these in the second season. Her therapist is revealed to be obsessively in love with her and, helped by the fact that she is already emotionally vulnerable at the time, he manipulates her into entering into a sexual relationship with him and even attempts to turn her against her friends and become completely dependant on him.
  • Quirky Town: Rome has this trope in spades.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: In "The Snake Lady", the titular character is obsessed with snakes and is, of course, evil.
  • Serial Killer: In the season one episode "Be My Valentine", the Sheriff's Department assist the FBI in hunting for the 'Cupid Killer', a serial killer that meets his female victims through lonely hearts columns and then brutally murders them in their own homes.
  • Shock Party: Used hilariously in "For Whom the Wind Blows".
  • Single-Minded Twins / Twin Telepathy: For a while Kenny dates a pair of Separated at Birth twin sisters whose connection is so strong that it draws them together. They're the ones who insist on dating him jointly. In their first appearance, one sister has to pull her car over on the side of the road and orgasm while her sister is having sex with Kenny... and they haven't even met yet.
  • Slice of Life: The show was this much more in it's early days, focusing heavily around the Brock family and the dynamics of the town of Rome itself. Over time it seemed to shift towards the police procedural and courtroom drama plots more heavily but still managed to juggle the different elements pretty successfully.
  • Society Is to Blame: This argument is used by Wambaugh when he is defending the boy who shot Matthew in the episode "Remote Control", particularly the effect of violent television and video games. It doesn't work.
  • Spiritual Successor: The show is a pretty clear spiritual successor for Twin Peaks which ended in the year that Picket Fences began and heralded the beginning of the trend of 'quirky small town' dramas that persisted throughout the nineties. Twin Peaks was a lot darker and more surreal then Picket Fences however, and Picket Fences never overtly veered into the supernatural.
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: The depressed, alcoholic mayor was written out of the plot by having him spontaneously combust in his own house. He already figured his political career was over, apparently making him a literal burnout was the final blow to the character.
  • Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss: Kimberly and her best friend kiss during a sleepover, causing Kimberly's parents to panic.
  • The Teaser: Every single episode has one before the opening credits.
  • To Be Continued / Multi-Part Episode: "Previously on Picket Fences..." There were quite a few of these due to the 'ongoing plot' nature of the show and some individual storylines continuing over multiple episodes.
  • Truth Serums: Used by Jill in the episode "Remembering Rosemary" to provoke a selective mute witness to a murder/suicide into talking.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting / Plot Parallel: Due to the fact that the show had a fairly large ensemble cast and it also had so many story elements (family drama, cop drama, legal drama, e.t.c), all of the episodes featured at least two plotlines (sometimes more) and the narrative would jump between them. The two (or more) plots would also often tie together or relate to each other in some way.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Douglas Wambaugh and Judge Henry Bone, who would also double as Heterosexual Life-Partners.
    • Kenny and Max also count as a slightly milder version of the trope.
  • Waking Up at the Morgue: In the season three episode "Close Encounters", Carter mispronounces a lounge singer who collapses on stage and she later wakes up in the morgue, screams her head off, falls off the slab and proceeds to get a concussion.
  • Weddings for Everyone: The series finale involves a triple wedding for Max/Kenny, Carter/Sue and Wambaugh/Miriam who are renewing their vows.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Kenny and Max's relationship is based off of this. They Do.