The Complete Series
Law & Order: Trial By Jury is the third spin-off series from the highly acclaimed Law & Order series. In this spin-off series, the show focuses on an aspect the original series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent rarely touch upon in detail, the court room. In most Law & Order episodes, the cases are wrapped up with a plea bargain or at the point where we know the party is guilty without a doubt and it is clear they are going to jail. In Law & Order: Trial By Jury, the focus is not catching the criminal, but the perspective from the district attorney's office and the defense as they trudge along through the trial procession. The series was short lived and produced a meager thirteen episodes, of which only twelve were aired on television. The series was not as well received as hoped and part of the reason is the untimely death of cast member Jerry Orbach.
In the end of the fourteenth season of Law & Order, Orbach's character Lennie Briscoe announced his retirement to his partner Ed Green. It was intended for Orbach to join the cast of Law & Order: Trial By Jury to help attract viewers. Unfortunately, his health did not allow for it. Orbach only appeared in the first two episodes. And sadly, the series did not have the oomph afterwards. Still it wasn't terrible and probably should have had more than thirteen episodes.
The biggest attraction, besides Orbach, is Bebe Neuwirth. She plays A.D.A. Tracey Kibre. Most people should be familiar with Neuwirth from her reoccurring role of Lilith Sternin from Cheers and Frasier. Neuwirth makes a very convincing A.D.A. She was one of the main reason I enjoyed this show as much as I did. The other A.D.A. is Kelly Gaffney (Amy Carlson). Carlson gives a suitable performance, but not quite as enticing as Neuwirth. Overseeing the D.A.'s office is the familiar face Fred Dalton Thompson as Arthur Branch.
On the investigation side, there is Hector Salazar (Kirk Acevedo). Salazar is a seasoned detective from the 64th precinct who took early medical retirement and found himself working for the D.A.'s office. Acevedo is decent in his role, but not particularly strong. After Orbach left the cast, Chris Ravell (Scott Cohen) joined as the second investigating detective. The series also features a variety of guest stars including Sam Waterston, Dennis Farina, Jesse L. Martin, Richard Belzer, S. Epatha Merkerson, Chris Meloni, Mariska Hargitay, Candice Bergen, Lorraine Bracco, and Peter Coyote.
This first and only season of Law & Order: Trial By Jury consists of thirteen episodes, with two crossover episodes with Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. (Crossover episodes are two-parters with part one from one series and part two from another series.) One of the bonuses included with this set is the first part of the crossover episode with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I thought the inclusion of the crossover episode was a great (and at the same time too bad the other crossover episode wasn't included) because you get to see the entire story versus trying to get all the details out of a thirty second recap.
"Skeleton (2)" is the continuation from Law & Order episode "Tombstone (1)". In the first part (episode not included) detective Green is shot. It was a pretty dramatic episode in itself with a back story leading up to Green's shooting. "Skeleton (2)" picks up with Branch giving the case to Kibre. Kibre, Gaffney, and the D.A. investigators who work along side detective Fontana to catch Green's shooter. The second crossover episode includes "DAY (1)" and "NIGHT(2)". In "DAY (1)" the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit regulars investigate a serial rapist whose wealthy and influential mother has been hindering the investigation. In "NIGHT (2)" the case is handed over to Kibre and Gaffney after A.D.A. Novak is assaulted and put in the hospital. This two-part episode is one of the more powerful stories, which is more or less due to the dramatic nature of the story and great performances from Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay.
As for the eleven episodes only found in this series, they are all quite entertaining. The pilot episode "The Abominable Showman" is worth noting. It introduces the cast and sets the tone for the series (less investigation, more time in court!). The story covered in this episode deals with a smug theater producer who is on trial for murder. The catch is there is no body. The next episode "Forty-One Shots" is an interesting tale. In it, a career criminal was shot forty-one times in a standoff with the N.Y.P.D. is put on trial for killing a police officer. The story really gets interesting when hints of police corruption arise. Again, these are the only two episodes Orbach appears in.
"Vigilante" introduces detective Ravell, who repeatedly finds himself working on cases with the D.A.'s office. In "Vigilante" a reformed child predator is murdered by a neighbor parent after the pedophile made contact with his daughter. The case turns out to have a twist and turns out to be pretty darn exciting. "Baby Boom" is a somewhat twisted episode with guest star Elizabeth Moss (The West Wing). Moss plays a nanny who is accused of murdering the child under her care. Moss gives a stellar performance as the seemingly innocent villain.
"Boys Will Be Boys" is a very odd and creepy episode. In this story a transsexual male is murdered. The D.A.'s office quickly becomes aware the motive might be because he was engaging in relations with straight men without informing them about being a transsexual. The story, of course, goes much deeper. Giancarlo Esposito (Homicide: Life on the Street) guest stars. "Blue Wall" is also a fairly intriguing episode with cops gone bad. A gay man dies after being sodomized in police custody. Two officers are put on trial for his death. Unfortunately for the D.A.'s office, none of the other cops will talk about the incident. Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire) guest stars.
Overall, I enjoyed getting to watch the complete series of Law & Order: Trial By Jury. While the series is not nearly as strong as the others under the Law & Order banner, Law & Order: Trial By Jury has merit. The different approach with more focus on the court proceedings is an interesting perspective and change from the common format of the other shows. Neuwirth also gives a stunning performance as the lead A.D.A. for the series. I think the show ended prematurely and could have become just as successful as the other Law & Order shows given time and some stronger cast members to work alongside Neuwirth.
1. The Abominable Showman
2. Forty-One Shots
4. Truth Or Consequences
5. Baby Boom
6. Pattern Of Conduct
7. Bang & Blame
8. Skeleton (2)
9. The Line
10. Blue Wall
11. NIGHT (1) from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
12. DAY (2)
13. Boys Will Be Boys
14. Eros In The Upper Eighties (unaired episode)
The video in this release is given in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. The picture quality looks good. As found with the other season sets from the Law & Order series, there is a slight roughness, grain in the picture, and hints of edge enhancement. Overall it is a solid picture.
The audio track supplied with release is English 5.1 Dolby digital stereo sound. The sound quality is good, the track is pretty clean and spoken dialogue is easily heard. Like most TV on DVD releases it is fairly flat and there is not much to it, but it fits the presentation well. This release also comes with subtitles in English and Spanish and supports closed captioning.
The extras included feature deleted scenes for episodes "The Abominable Showman", "Forty-One Shots", "Vigilante", and "Truth Or Consequences" with a total runtime of 5:48, a short featurette "A Different Look at Law & Order" (6:33) with the cast members giving short dialogues about the show's different format, and the first part of the crossover episode with Law & Order: Special Victims Units.
Law & Order: Trial By Jury takes a very different approach than the other shows under the Law & Order banner. The focus is on the courtroom and trial proceedings instead of a balance of law and order. This includes jury selection, grand jury hearings, the defense, the prosecution, and other related aspects. The approach works and some pretty dramatic and entertaining stories follow. However the show has weaknesses in its cast and a few fluffy tales. In the end it had promise and probably should have lasted longer than it did. Fans of crime dramas should really enjoy this set.