Judge John Deed is back with six more 89-minute "episodes" from 2005, two more than in Season Three. The program has the same plusses and minuses as before, which I discuss in reviews of Judge John Deed - Season One & Pilot Episode, Judge John Deed - Season Two, and Judge John Deed - Season Three.
Basically, the show's title character is a liberal fantasy: a champion of the oppressed, especially victims of corporate greed, this in sharp contrast to conservative establishment judges and politically motivated Lord Chancellor's Department, the ultimate Old Boy Network, and the Home Office. It's often immensely entertaining, and while Deed's controversial rulings appear technically legally viable, liberal fans of Deed's judicial activism would probably be horrified were there a conservative judge at the other end of the political spectrum.
Still the show's trial scenes certainly feel authentic and are often riveting. Despite some reasonable criticism raised by others, G.F. Newman's teleplays always grapple with interesting points of law, human (and sometimes animal) rights issues, and other basic questions of morality and humanism.
Conversely, Deed's scandal-plagued private life would be dismissed as unpardonable soap opera were it not for Newman's clear intent to paint Deed as a deeply flawed, self-destructive character. Less defensible is the sometimes absurd depiction of Deed's enemies, all one step removed from Simon Legree. They all but curl oily mustaches with grubby fingers obscured behind black capes. Happily this is toned down a bit compared to previous seasons, and one-time rival Sir Joseph Channing (Donald Sinden) even becomes something of an ally, and with a sense of humor, yet.
The three-disc BBC and 2|entertain DVD, distrbuted through Warner Bros., has no extras but the three single-sided, dual-layered discs are in 16:9 enhanced widescreen and look and sound great.
Populating High Court Judge John Deed's (Martin Shaw) world are his often frustrated, onetime lover Jo Mills (Jenny Seagrove), a former pupil turned QC (Queen's Counsel) who often appears before Deed; his devoted if often exasperated clerk, Rita "Coop" Cooper (Barbara Thorn); and his rebellious but loving daughter, Charlie "Chaz" Deed (Louisa Clein), now a junior in Jo's chambers.
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). They play a less-central role in these shows, as greater emphasis has been placed on vain Sir Monty Everard (Simon Ward), a conservative High Court Judge, who like Joseph Channing has his reactionary views dialed back a thankful notch or two.
Unlike season three, in which the two biggest cases were spread across four 89-minute shows, the six episodes here consist of self-contained legal stories while serializing Deed's and Jo's private lives. Indeed, Jo's part in the series has been beefed-up considerably, with her character getting at least as much screen time as Deed, and in a story thread that has precious little to do with the judge.
That story thread follows Jo as she tries to adopt the young boy whose mother died of brain cancer during Jo's case (in season three) against the cell-phone company blamed for her fatal illness. Jo struggles to have it all - a demanding career and a second shot at motherhood - but the boy suffers and their relationship is damaged. Further complicating matters is the sudden appearance of his biological father (Adrian Lukis, a dead ringer for a young George Baker).
As inevitable as death and taxes, Alpha Male Deed recklessly continues sleeping around. If a woman between the ages of 20 and 55 is introduced, chances are good Deed will bed her before the episode is over. Though bordering on tiresome, Deed has a growing awareness of his addiction/self-destructiveness, and there's another interesting side effect that probably wasn't intended. When the series began, Shaw was older but still quite handsome, but by season four he's noticeably older, crossing that border into dirty old man status, like Roger Moore in his last five 007 movies. (Perhaps aware of this, Deed pursues younger and younger women as well.)
The cases are the show's strengths, however, and this season's crop are especially interesting: a man goes on trial after murdering a pedophile about to finish a ridiculously inapt prison sentence; a waste incinerator company is accused of damaging the public health; the producers of a reality show go on trial after one of its contestants commits murder.
Perhaps the best case involves the straightforward murder of a drug dealer in a turf war. The three thugs responsible and their unruly supporters intimidate jurors to the point where Deed is pressured into a juryless trial, which he opposes. The climatic scenes of this episode are the most crowd-pleasing since Harry Brown.
Video & Audio
Six feature-length episodes in 16:9 enhanced widescreen are spread over three single-sided discs. The shows may not have been shot in 35mm but they have that film-like look about them. The Dolby Digital stereo is fine also, and optional English subtitles are included for the deaf and hearing impaired. There are no Extra Features.
Judge John Deed may be unrealistic, even absurd at times, but it still gets high marks. Just be sure to take that grain of salt which each viewing. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.