The best network drama to debut in 1995 was Murder One
, and the first season still packs a wallop. By sustaining a compelling mystery through 23 brilliantly written episodes (or "Chapters"), creators Steven Bochco, Charles H. Eglee, and Channing Gibson brought their stellar talents to a format that clearly inspired later shows like 24
. Bearing no resemblance to Bochco's L.A. Law
, the series presents Los Angeles as "a bucket of crabs," where superstar defense attorney Ted Hoffman (Daniel Benzali) tackles the high-profile case of Neil Avedon (Jason Gedrick), a bad-boy actor accused of strangling his 15-year-old girlfriend. As Hoffman and his savvy associates pursue the truth, it becomes obvious that wealthy entrepreneur Richard Cross (Stanley Tucci at his oily best) is manipulating the case, confounding Hoffman and the LAPD detective (Dylan Baker) who's sleuthing all the clues.
Every episode is crucial, and there's not a weak link in the entire supporting cast. Benzali bleeds charisma with his sotto voce dialogue and subtle moral conviction, holding forth in a sleazy den of Hollywood iniquity. It's a unique marriage of actor and character, and with so many talents on impressive display, Murder One rests squarely on Benzali's riveting performance. Subplots illustrate the heavy toll paid for Hoffman's legal passion; his wife (played to perfection by Patricia Clarkson) bears a taxing emotional burden. Barbara Bosson (then Bochco's wife) earned an Emmy nomination as the case's dogged prosecutor, and in addition to superb cast members Mary McCormack, J.C. MacKenzie, Michael Hayden, John Fleck, and Kevin Tighe, notable guest stars include Joe Spano, Brittany Murphy, Jena Elfman, Donna Murphy, and especially Bobbie Phillips as the murder victim's sister. Thanks to award-winning cinematography and high-class production design, Murder One remains one of the best-looking shows of its kind, a modern film noir with hidden truths in every shadow and threat-laden close-up.
DVD extras are minimal but worthwhile: Two commentaries (by Gedrick on "Chapter 8" and director Randy Zisk on "Chapter 15"), and a 10-year retrospective featurette including most of the primary cast. What's never mentioned is that Murder One suffered poor ratings against ER on Thursday nights, changed most of its cast and format in season 2, and was inevitably cancelled. --Jeff Shannon
Sex. Lies. Murder. One day at a time until justice is served. From the creator of NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, and LA Law and in the same fashion as 24 - each episode of Murder One represents one day of a single sensational and explosive trial.