Jack Gold's The Brief (2004-2005) is a layered British courtroom drama with a few tricks up its sleeve, but it doesn't always use them to their best advantage. Both of its four-episode seasons are only self-contained in the loosest sense of the word, carrying a few broad story during each case-of-the-week episode. The complete series stars Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek, QI) as Henry Farmer, a London barrister with a heavy load of personal hang-ups. Henry is a terrible father, a divorcee and a compulsive gambler, and often lives paycheck-to-paycheck just to keep his head above water. The strain of multiple cases makes his job even harder and more stressful, repeating the vicious cycle on a semi-regular basis. If that weren't enough, the troubled Henry is in love with a prominent politician's wife, but she's understandably reluctant to return his affections. Simply put, his life is a mess and it shows little signs of recovery.
Series 1 premiere "The Road to Hell" starts things off with a bang, as the main case revolves around a woman, her boyfriend and their two dead children; it's obvious that one of the parents is responsible for this terrible crime, yet their admission of guilt doesn't seem all that truthful. Other cases include death by misadventure, a horrific train accident, at least one alleged rape and several accused murderers (including who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome). Such cases are easily The Brief's most interesting segments, as they typically hold our interest and give certain episodes a measure of weight.
Unfortunately, most attempts at outside-the-courtroom drama don't work quite as well. Davies does a solid job as Henry the lawyer, yet his comedic background rears its head when it really shouldn't. He's not quite believable as a man with a serious gambling problem, and his relationship with estranged father Gillespie (Edward Petherbridge) isn't nearly as compelling as it ought to be. The Brief wants to be a well-rounded character study but falls a little short at several turns, revealing occasional bursts of mystery and suspense but not much else. It's worth noting that the second four-episode series scales back on the personal drama a bit, creating more of a straightforward case-by-case atmosphere...and for the most part, this works to the show's advantage. Yet the bulk of The Brief is almost painfully ordinary, causing the majority of episodes to move slowly when they ought to be charging forward.
The Region 1 release of The Brief: The Complete Collection has taken over six years to swim across the pond, but this four-disc set arrives courtesy of Acorn Media. It's basically a featureless, paint-by-numbers affair, and unfortunately the sticker price is a bit high for an eight-episode collection (granted, the episodes are over an hour apiece, but still...). Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, this four-disc collection looks good with mild reservations. Image detail is good, the film's subdued color palette is represented nicely and shadow detail holds up well. Unfortunately, the content has not been flagged correctly for progressive playback, so there's a modest amount of digital combing on display. I've definitely seen better-looking imports, but The Brief is still a watchable endeavor on the whole.
The source audio doesn't aim very high, so the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix replicates these low-key productions faithfully and with little effort. Dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand, while occasional music cues rarely fight for attention along the way. If you're not overly familiar with British accents and slang, the optional English SDH subtitles will undoubtedly be of some use.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the static menus are simply designed and easy to navigate. Each 70-minute episode has been divided into roughly a dozen chapters and selection sub-menus are present for each. These DVDs are dual-layered and the four-disc set is housed in a pair of standard-width keepcases with promotional inserts and a slipcover. Odd that a more compact presentation wasn't chosen, but them's the breaks.
Unfortunately, we don't get any bonus features with this four-disc collection. Not exactly a surprise, but it makes this release even harder to recommend for value-conscious buyers.
The Brief occasionally has its moments, but this legal-centered series takes plenty of missteps during its eight-episode run. The performances and stories aren't so much unimpressive as they are uninspired, mainly due to rather flat characters and too much emphasis on inflated personal drama. Acorn Media's DVD package is nothing to write home about, pairing a decent technical presentation with absolutely no bonus features. Overall, The Brief is an expensive import at just under $60 and definitely not worth a blind buy, but curious genre fans may want to give it a weekend spin anyway. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs and writing stuff in third person.