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Series / L.A. Law

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"I heard the U.S.S.R. will be open soon
As vacationland for lawyers in love."
Jackson Browne, "Lawyers in Love"

A legal drama created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher and airing on NBC from 1986-1994, about the antics at a fictional Los Angeles law firm, McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak.

The original main characters were:

  • Leland McKenzie, founding partner, patriarch of the firm.
  • Douglas Brackman, managing partner, son of the founder
  • Arnie Becker, divorce lawyer, frequent womanizer
  • Ann Kelsey, public attorney, eventually marries Markowitz
  • Stuart Markowitz, top tax attorney, eventually marries Kelsey
  • Michael Kuzak, litigation specialist, starts relationship with Van Owen
  • Grace Van Owen, prosecuting attorney, starts relationship with Kusak
  • Roxanne Melman, Becker's devoted secretary
  • Victor Sifuentes, associate
  • Abby Perkins, law clerk turned associate

(Benny Stulwitz, the office messenger, is not included in this list as he was only credited as a guest in the first season. Associate Jonathan Rollins was introduced in the second season. He continued his role until the end of the series.)

"L.A. Tropes":

  • Amoral Attorney: Jonathan Rollins has his moments, frowned upon as they are by the senior partners, Leland in particular.
    • Tommy Mullaney also had his moments, and Leland wasn't fond of him from the minute he joined the firm. Leland wound up reading the riot act to Tommy and Grace after finding out that Tommy helped Grace's seriously ill friend obtain a kidney on the Black Market. He told them that their actions not only damaged the firm's reputation, but also violated Federal law. He added that this was something he expected of the shady Mullaney, but certainly not something he expected from Grace, and warned them that if something like this happened again, he'd fire both of them.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Roxanne Melman, to Arnie. Later replaced by Sassy Secretary Gwen Taylor.
  • Bury Your Gays: In the pilot episode, law partner Chaney dies of a heart attack. Later on in the same episode, it's revealed he was a closeted gay man when his lover shows up at the eulogy.
  • Celebrity Paradox: One episode had Dan Castellaneta playing an epileptic theme park employee, whose job was to play Homer Simpson.
  • Chick Magnet: Divorce lawyer Arnie Becker.
  • Dating Catwoman: After fighting over McKenzie-Brackman and suing each other almost into oblivion, Leland and Rosalind end up... a couple???
  • Driven to Suicide: During a trial Judge and former law school professor Adam Biel begins to lose control of his mental facilities. His former student and prosecutor Zoey Clemmons confronts him about this when the lapses become apparent during a trial, and tells him that her duties as a lawyer require her to report these lapses to the government. Zoey believed Judge Biel would realize that he no longer had the capacity to continue as a Judge and would step down, but a gunshot rings out instead inside Biel's chambers.
    • In the first season, Michael's colleague and friend Sid Hershberg, a defense attorney, cracks under the pressure of having to be the mouthpiece for morally questionable people. He's involuntarily committed to a mental hospital after he punches his own client on the witness stand. When he gets out, he takes his own life in a courtroom during the Christmas season, after making an impassioned and tortured closing argument about our worth as human beings.
  • Elevator Failure: Rosalind Shays gets the shaft. Literally.
  • Famous for Being First: In Jonathan Rollins' Back Story, he had been the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
  • Golf Clubbing: In one episode, Grace prosecutes a golfer for cruelty to animals after he beat a swan to death with his club after it honked and ruined his shot. Later it is revealed that in another incident a toad had croaked to distract the golfer and he then literally teed off on it.
  • Hilarity Sues: Some of their cases are ridiculous.
  • Hollywood Tourette's: Noah Cowen, a client of the firm, has Tourette's. It causes him to spit, yell out "Whoop!" and "Oh, boy!", and spout out offensive language. In his first appearance, he's suing his employer for firing him on account of his condition. In his second, Douglas and Jonathan are trying to hide his condition from a prospective investor in his new business.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The title of every episode is a bad pun or play on words.
  • Idiot Savant: Dave Meyer is incredibly irritating and cannot function socially around anyone besides other junk mail barons. He's also a business genius who has made himself a multimillionaire and the only character on the show who demonstrates unwavering honesty and business ethics.
  • Incompatible Orientation: C.J and Abby in a Sweep Weeks episode.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Mike Post strikes again.
  • Intimate Lotion Application: In "Gibbon Take", during a custody battle between a divorced couple, the husband's lawyer attempts to frame the wife as an unfit guardian by showing pictures of her sunbathing topless in her yard as her "lesbian lover" is rubbing sunscreen on her back. The wife explains that's just her roommate and the action is platonic, but the lawyer and the husband think that's an excuse, and push the image that she's a "debauched lesbian".
  • Jerkass: Douglas, in the first couple of seasons.
  • Job Title: The show is about lawyers in Los Angeles..
  • Know Your Vines: Stuart and Ann's camping misadventure. Remember the TP next time.
  • Once an Episode: In every single scene taking place in the office, a male voice can be heard in the background chatter saying, "The search was illegal, so..." There are a lot of illegal searches going on in L.A., apparently.
  • The Place: The series takes place in Los Angeles.
  • Prenup Blowup: It's complicated. Stuart asks Ann to sign one. She agrees to, reluctantly. But when she signs it, he declares she's proven her love for him and that he doesn't really need the pre-nup, and tears it to pieces. Ann is infuriated, accusing Stuart of being manipulative and testing her love with a cheap ploy. Upon reflection, he admits she was right in the next episode when she turns down the gifts he's been trying to give her in an attempt to make up. She forgives him by the end of the episode and everything's all right again.
  • Put on a Bus: Many, but especially Michael and Victor. Counting the reunion movie, The Bus Came Back for both. Zig-zagged with Grace van Owen: She was put on the bus at the end of season five with Michael and Victor. She returned at the beginning of season six and left again at the end of the season (In reality, the network negotiated with Susan Dey between seasons five and six and convinced her to return for one more season.) And then she returned for the reunion movie.
  • Revolving Door Casting: Over an eight-season run, the show managed to accumulate numerous characters, several of which didn't make it past a year. At the end of the series, half of the original ten cast members were gone, and the remaining cast included of actors introduced in later seasons.
  • Ripped from the Headlines
  • Running Gag: Arnie Becker can't keep his pecker in his pants, and as a divorce lawyer he has lots of clients he can service, not only by getting them excellent settlements from their former husbands, but by bedding them as well.
  • Sex God: The inventor of the "Venus butterfly".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Daniel Morales for Victor Sifuentes.
  • Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss: Abby and C.J. One of the first on US prime-time television.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: When confronted with a smarmy con man who bilked seniors out of their life savings and will declare bankruptcy if he loses, what does Jonathan do? He brutally cross-examines the man for hours, causing him to have a fatal heart attack, and when the EMT's are (unsuccessfully) trying to resuscitate the huckster, talks the judge into attaching his life insurance to any judgment.
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine: In the Season 2 episode “Beauty and Obese,” Jonathan “disses” the other lawyers in the firm on a TV talk show, so they get him back by using a client’s proprietary hologram technology to convince him he’s seeing a “ghost” in the office after hours. He gets them back by appearing on the talk show again and dishing out even more vicious dirt. The partners are horrified, then steaming mad—until Jonathan reveals it’s not a real talk show appearance, but a video he made to trick them.
  • Team Killer: Stuart is so upset on how another paintball player is cheating - he's continuing to play after he was shot and had to forfeit his chip - that Stuart begins shooting him multiple times. Brackman tells Stuart, who is one of his teammates, to knock it off, he's proven his point, but Stuart keeps shooting the guy, so finally Brackman shoots Stuart, then says, "Give me your chip."
  • The Reveal: Subverted. Unlike in later David E. Kelley and Steven Bochco shows such as The Practice, Boston Legal, and Murder in the First, in which the audience almost always learns who really committed the crime at the end of the episode even if the characters don't, on L.A. Law nearly every murder trial leaves the question of the defendant's actual guilt unresolved. Nothing is ever shown on screen outside the presence of a viewpoint character from the main cast who notices it.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Stuart Markowitz and Ann Kelsey quickly became a couple, and eventually married. Stuart was short and chubby with average looks and a low-self esteem, while Ann was tall, svelte, attractive, and highly confident.
    • This is both a fictional example, and a real one, as Stuard and Anne's respective actors, Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, have been married since 1973 (13 years before the series began).
  • Toad Licking: The client in one episode was a retired man whose nursing home wouldn't let him have alcohol on the premises, so he acquired a hallucinogenic toad.
  • Transplant: Eli Levinson and his secretary Denise Iannello from Civil Wars. Not surprising, however, since series creator William M. Finklestein later served as executive producer of L.A. Law during its final season.
  • Truth in Television: Larry Drake's portrayal of the mentally disabled but dignified office assistant Benny Stulwitz won the actor several major awards, both in television and from advocacy groups.
  • Wham Episode: About half of the episodes in season five qualify. Actor's contracts were up at the end of the season, and so many of them (Harry Hamlin, Michele Greene, Jimmy Smits, et al.) decided to leave the series. They were written out by having several of the characters leave to start their own firm. Lawsuits and major drama ensued. Note that this was also the season where Rosalind Shays returned, hit the firm with a lawsuit, was discovered to be having an affair with Leland, and was memorably written out.