High Court Judge John Deed is back for another series (season in America) of four 89-minute "episodes" that originally aired in 2002. Starring the popular - in Britain, though still largely unknown in America - Birmingham-born Martin Shaw, it's an unusually intelligent drama, if at times shamelessly manipulative, arguably trading factually dubious legal rulings for audience-pleasing, Capra-esque wish-fulfillment.
Even so, Judge John Deed is enormously entertaining. In my review of Judge John Deed - Season One & Pilot Episode, I suggested the program was like a subtler, less satirical Rumpole of the Bailey, that being the beloved 1975-1992 series about disreputable barrister Horace Rumpole (the irreplaceable Leo McKern), who despite immense political pressure from various judges, "leaders" in criminal trials, etc., never pleads guilty, forever standing up for the rights of the individual.
Judge John Deed is much the same, the bane of his exclusive class of stuffy fellow judges, who never bows to political pressure. Quite unlike Rumpole, Deed is wealthy, handsome, and an incorrigible ladies man.
The four feature-length episodes (down from six shows in the Season One set) are spread over two single-sided, dual-layered discs and are in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. There are no extra features at all but the disc includes BBC's usual grating anti-copying warnings and commercials for other programs.
Left-to-right: Barbara Thorn, Sir Donald Sinden, Shaw, Jenny Seagrove, and Caroline Langrishe
As before, Deed's allies and enemies are so starkly defined they become something of a weakness. In Deed's corner is his often frustrated, sometimes-lover Jo Mills (Jenny Seagrove), a former pupil now a QC (Queen's Counsel) who often appears before Deed; his devoted clerk, Rita "Coop" Cooper (Barbara Thorn); his rebellious but loving daughter, Charlie "Chaz" Deed (Louisa Clein), here a law student and social activist; and police commissioner Row Colemore (Christopher Cazenove, who died earlier this year).
Deed's archenemies include weasily Sir Ian Rochester (Simon Chandler), who spends much of the series trying to discredit Deed; and Sir Ian's conniving lackey Laurence James (Fraser James). Falling somewhere in the middle are Deed's rich ex-wife Georgina (Caroline Langrishe), also a barrister; and Deed's ex-father-in-law, crusty reactionary Sir Joseph Channing (Sir Donald Sinden), also a judge.
As in series one, Deed doesn't let propriety get in the way of his amorous adventures. One episode in this set features (at least) four women Deed has bed down at some point: Jo, Georgina, a waitress friend of his daughter's, and Francesca (Jemma Redgrave*), the gorgeous but troubled wife of Sir Ian.
And like series one, this collection of Judge John Deed shows typically juggles two thematically-linked trials (an "A" and "B" story in TV terms) with a kind of "C" subplot, usually revolving around Sir Ian's hapless, Wile E. Coyote-like efforts to have Deed disgraced, Deed's convoluted love life, and/or Deed's relationship with Charlie, a pampered but intelligent daughter he can no longer control.
Such is the case with "Nobody's Fool," in which a pregnant Charlie contemplates having an abortion while Deed, feeling guilt over an earlier unwanted pregnancy, urges her to have the baby. This puts a strain on their relationship, more so when he becomes distracted by a renewed relationship with Francesca, clearly up to no good.
The series works best when it focuses on complicated legal/moral issues. The best of these is "Everyone's Child" Its "A" story concerns a 15-year-old animal activist who, against his parents' wishes, wants to refuse a heart transplant operation because of the procedure's ties to animal testing. The arguments both for and against forcing the boy to have the procedure are compelling; that creator-writer G F Newman is himself a devout vegan highly critical of conventional medicine explains its teleplay's obvious passion.
Each of the other shows explores similarly interesting and complex issues. In "Political Expediency," for instance, higher-ups in the British government pressure Deed to go easy on an Arab sheikh and his chauffer, the latter accused of murdering a prostitute (though he is clearly taking the rap on behalf of the former), and the family's obvious efforts to intimidate the jury and prosecution.
Martin Shaw is a delight to watch as Deed, both on the bench and off, where his rakish charm serves the character well. Indeed, the ensemble casts are terrific, as are the occasional guest stars, such as Billie Whitelaw's appearance in "Nobody's Fool." It's a handsome-looking show and hard to believe it's nearly a decade old.
Video & Audio
Four feature-length episodes in 16:9 enhanced widescreen are spread over two single-sided discs. As before a disheartening disclaimer notes, "Due to music clearance issues certain edits have been made." I didn't notice any jarring cuts; then again I was seeing these episodes for the first time. It's a shame American music rights holders charge a king's ransom even for the shortest snippet from an obscure song. The shows may not have been shot in 35mm but they have that film-like look about them. It's an impressive looking program. The Dolby Digital stereo is fine also, and optional English subtitles are included for the deaf and hearing impaired. There are no Extra Features.
Despite some reservations Judge John Deed gets high marks. Take it with a grain of salt, but be entertained anyway. Highly Recommended.
* She's the daughter of the late Corin Redgrave (and niece of Vanessa and Lynn), who had a recurring role as a QC on the concurrent Trial & Retribution.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.