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New Street Law: The Complete Second Season

Koch Vision // Unrated // April 1, 2008
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted April 17, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The second (and final) season of "New Street Law" flows effortlessly from the first - which makes sense when you learn that the season began filming less than two months after the first season wrapped. The two seasons feel like one connected whole, assuming you factor out the season-ending cliffhanger that goes unresolved thanks to the series' cancellation.

If you missed the first season (or "series," if you prefer the British terminology; my review can be found here) of this BBC drama, here's what's going on: Jack Roper (John Hannah) the head barrister in a struggling Manchester-based chambers, located downstairs from the chambers headed by the well-to-do Laurence Scammel (Paul Freeman). As the first season ended, Laurence's daughter, Laura (Lisa Faulkner), had resigned from her father's chambers and joined up - both professionally and romantically - with Jack, who was arrested for tampering with a case. Meanwhile, Jack's law partners Annie Quick (Lara Cazalet) and Charlie Darling (John Thomson) were suffering the fallout of a one night stand, with Annie eager to call off any more flings and Charlie falling hard for Annie.

Season two - with episodes written by James McIntyre, Chris Bucknall, and series co-creator Matthew Hall - clears up Jack's legal case fairly quickly, which is disappointing; the drama to come from such an ethical grey area (was Jack tampering with the case, or was he merely instructing his client to tell the truth?) could have spread out over several episodes. Instead, we're rushed through to hasty closure, the writers eager to pump several new stories into this shortened season. (Season two runs a mere six episodes, down from eight the previous season.)

This hurried feeling affects a few other key moments in the remaining season. One episode deals with Al (Chris Gascoyne), the downstairs' chambers' clerk, and a life-changing moment with his boyfriend; again, we reach a dramatic point that could fill several episodes, but it's crammed too tightly into just one, and only mentioned in passing for the remainder of the season. A separate subplot leftover from season one, involving Laurence being passed over for a position on the bench, went completely forgotten until a late-season reminder. And one main character, Sally Benn (Jayne Ashborne), winds up shoved so far into the corners of the scripts that she's essentially demoted to supporting status.

The writers instead turn their attentions to three main storylines. The Annie/Charlie relationship shows the aftermath of an affair, with the usually flirtatious Charlie suddenly dampening his quick tongue. He's in love now, so there's no more winking at the other ladies in the halls. But he's also still deeply in love with his wife, which adds a certain depth to the role, which Thomson handles with terrific ease. Cazalet brings a touch of heartbreak to her own part, as Annie realizes she doesn't want to leave her own husband, at least not for Charlie - yet the choice might not be hers.

Honor Scammel (Penny Downie), Laurence's wife and law partner, begins her own affair, this one far more than a one time fling. The drama here comes not from the usual soap opera antics that follow, but from the quieter study of how Honor deals with an increasingly distant husband, who, in turn, makes some inner changes of his own. The Laurence of season one was a well-crafted baddie, an adversary with an admirable view of justice hampered only by his old-school way of thinking. It's nice, then, to see even more intensity added to these characters for season two. On their own, Downie and Freeman provide excellent performances, but their best work is when they're sharing the screen.

The third storyline is something lesser, and one wonders if it was intended to be merely a subplot or if the writers hoped to develop it further. Young weasel Joe Stevens (Lee Williams) ends up leaving Jack's chambers and applies for an open position upstairs, which riles Faye (Samina Bux), the young student eyeing the same job. With so much else going on, there's not much time left to deal with the clash between these two. However, Joe's ever-increasing sliminess (even Laurence calls him on his poor behavior) meshes well with his crude ambitions from the first season - and Williams makes for a wonderful little jackass, all smarmy grins and self-assuredness.

Indeed, the character work is what makes "New Street Law" click for a second season. The individual cases are decent enough (with the scripts usually balancing one serious trial and one smaller, quirky case per episode), but the show continues to be all about the cast, the way they work off each other in all the right ways.

The second season began airing in February 2007, nearly a half year since it filmed. The ratings were low, with the BBC moving its final two episodes to a later time slot; in July, the network listed the program among several that were canned.


Koch Vision collects all six one-hour episodes of season two onto two DVDs, with three episodes per disc. (As with season one, the episodes here are untitled.) The discs are housed in a two-tray digipak which then fits into a glossy cardboard slipcover.

Video & Audio

The look and sound of the second season matches that of the first. The anamorphic widescreen (1.77:1) image contains a fair amount of grain, especially in darker scenes, although the overall effect is quite nice - it's "gritty" while still being visually pleasant. The soundtrack is presented in a clean, clear Dolby 2.0, which comes across nicely for this talk-heavy production. No subtitles are provided.



Final Thoughts

Even though the sophomore batch of episodes comes across as more rushed and less involving as the first season, there's still plenty of whip-smart drama to engage the viewer. Recommended.
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