“Picket Fences” (1992 – 1996)
Created by: David E. Kelley
Featuring: Tom Skerritt, Kathy Baker, Costas Mandylor, Lauren Holly, Holly Marie Combs, Zelda Rubinstein, Adam Wylie, Fyvush Finkel, Ray Walston, Kelly Connell, Don Cheadle, Lisa Chess, Justin Shenkarow
While David E. Kelley is widely known for his successful legal shows (“The Practice”, “Ally McBeal”, “Boston Legal” and writing on “LA Law”), the producer’s shows away from the courtroom, such as “Boston Public” and especially “Picket Fences”, were also well-recieved by both critics and fans alike. Although the series did have some trouble with ratings, the show’s fans remained devoted, as the series ran for four seasons from 1992-1996 on CBS, winning 14 Emmys and 1 Golden Globe in the four years on-air.
The series follows the lives of the residents of the small town of Rome, Wisconsin, where weird things happen, including cows’ udders exploding and a spate of people turning up dead in freezers. Struggling to maintain order in the community is Sheriff Jimmy Brock (Tom Skerritt). Sheriff Brock is married to the town doctor, Jill (Kathy Baker), his second wife. They attempt to raise their three children, Kimberly (Holly Marie Combs) (from Jimmy’s first marriage to Lydia), Matthew (Justin Shenkarow) and Zachary (Adam Wylie). Max (Lauren Holly) and Kenny (Costas Mandylor) are impulsive and somewhat immature sheriff’s deputies.
Although Baker and Skeritt offered strong performances in their roles, “Picket” is another example of a Kelly-produced series that attracted a strong ensemble cast and was able to spread the focus around to all the characters. Aside from the sheriff and his wife, there’s Judge Bone (a terrific Ray Walston), Deputies Kenny and Max (played respectively by Costas Mandylor and Lauren Holly) and lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkle).
Bombastic lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) usually irritated Judge Henry Bone (Ray Walston). Wambaugh refused to hear any confessions of guilt from his clients as he feared that it would only stand in the way of adequately defending them in court and Bone’s rulings seemed to be directed more by his own moral compass than by point of law. After several prosecutors came and went, Don Cheadle joined the cast as John Littleton. Kelly Connell played medical examiner Carter Pike (who was regularly begging to be deputized) and Zelda Rubenstein portrayed police dispatcher Ginny Weedon.
The show dealt with unusual topics for prime-time television such as abortion, incest, homophobia and LGBT adoption, trans sexuality, racism, belief in God, medical ethics, polygamy, polyamory, adolescent sexuality, date rape, cryonics, the Holocaust, shoe fetishism, masturbation, animal sacrifice, spontaneous human combustion, and constitutional rights.
Picket Fences is a show that is just as enjoyable today as I’m sure it was when I was twelve years old and it first started airing. The storylines are serious yet fun and that is what keeps the show entertaining from one episode to the next. The cases are really far out there sometime and each one has a gimmick to it instead of being a normal shut and close murder or robbery. One of the best cases in this season and one of the strangest is “The Frog Man.” There is no rhyme or reason as to why anyone would leave frogs at the scene of all their crimes as their so-called calling card. It’s a scene right out of Home Alone and the Wet Bandits.
The creativity just continues to flow with each different, and absurd, criminal or motive. But the good thing is that there is continuity in the show, but not too much of it. The crimes don’t carry over to each episode but are solved by the end of whatever one it starts in. Yet anything that happens to someone in town or the Brock family will be mentioned in the next or future episodes. For instance, the mayoral race actually runs for about three or four episodes with bringing up past occurrences of why certain candidates bowed out of the election or just couldn’t continue. It was quite enjoyable to watch everything in order and actually remember back a few episodes when something was mentioned and you can just be like, “Oh yeah, that was when the maid stopped being a mute and said murder!”
The episodes are shown in 1.33:1 Full Frame format and look perfectly fine. Doesn’t seem as if much was done to tweak the colors or anything during the transfer to DVD from when the episodes originally aired. But things look bright when they need to be and never are scenes too dark too see; so all works out nicely.
The episodes are heard in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and also sound good. Everything can be heard clearly and crisply without any sort of interference at all. As with the video though, there is no apparent upgrade in the sound as to when you would see the episodes in reruns.