OK, the title isn't all that clear, I'll grant you that. Is she talking about Yes Minister? you might be wondering, or did she mean Cracker? Very good guesses indeed; I see I'm writing for an audience with refined tastes. But no. I found in today's mail series 1 (all 22 episodes, 6 DVDs) of PicketFences, a show that often made me laugh, sometimes made me cry, and often made me think. I can't think of higher praise.
A good disc. It's dragged down a little by the pilot episode, as pilots are wont to do, which is then followed by two rather entertaining episodes. B
Pilot Whacky crimes. Doctor/patient-privilege.
The Tinman is murdered. Murder case with a few twists, one of the show's signature deaths ("suicide in the dishwasher"), feels a little strange as it's about two episodes long. Introduces the cast and all usual pilot-fare. Also, Kenny falls in love with a singer Kimberly adores, but they find out there are no pure heroes. B-C — by PF standards, which is still pretty good!
The Green Bay Chooper Whacky crimes.
Interesting things happen when a kid brings a severed hand to class for "show and tell." Has some hilarious scenes and the memoral visual of bringing together in one room eight men with a hook for a right hand. B, funny! Also, Max gets automatic weapons! Squeee!
Mr. Dreeb comes to town Social mores and brain-surgery. Max is attracted to a dwarf who comes riding into town on a stolen elephant. 'nough said. Has some hilarious moments, and a lot of absurdity. B+
This disc is a mixed bag, one excellent episode, one good, two average (mayoral election). B
The Autumn of Rome Justice vs vengeance
Dirty tricks in the mayoral campaigns, becoming a monster to fight monsters. This is the first episode to be really blatantly open-ended — PF never gave answers where it didn't have any, when it only had the questions, and that was possibly the single-most important factor in achieving true greatness (apart from mixing a doc show, a cop show, courtroom drama, and medical examiners with interesting questions and whacky deaths, anyway). Nevertheless, this was also one of the weakest episodes, between having few laughs, no whackiness, and the very rare instance of the melodrama seeming a bit forced at one point. C
Frank, the potato man Whacky crimes, poverty, sexual harassment, the price of security While Sheriff Brock tries to figure out the identity of a mysterious serial bather, a farmer accuses his neighbor of getting his cows drunk. A serial bather(!), exploding cows, and what people will do to get rid of or at least safe from potential threats. The endings are not happy, and the conclusions are flawed, but that's what you get. A- for an impressive mix of "important issues" and hearty laughter, without one taking away too much from the other.
Remembering Rosemary Halloween episode, a love gone wrong, whacky crimes.
Carter gets his wish. Also raises question about med ethics once more. B-
The Contenders Election
When mayor Pugen ignores "Women's issues", Jill Brock decides to run for mayor. Kenny arrests a former idol of his, and tries to get him from the cell into a boxing ring. B- Yeah, women being about half the population but not holding half the power is an important point, but I just didn't like the election arc that much.
This is an excellent disk. A-/ B+ If you are going to watch just one disk from Series One, this would be it.
Sacred Hearts Suicide, assisted suicide, Alzheimer's, religion Why does Yom Kippur drag people into a big black hole to rend their flesh, and why does G-d let all these terrible things happen?
Memorable scenes: The town priest and pastor are at the police station, arguing loudly. (paraphrased)
Sheriff: You're men of G-d, you're not going to get violent!
Priest: Where have you been? Every single war in history was based on religion!
<Deputies Maxine and Kenny pass by in full riot gear, everybody stares at them>
Ginny: They're gonna bust a nun.
A-/B+ for issues and good laughs.
Thanksgiving bigotry and love
Thanksgiving in the Brock household. Time for the big psychodrama. A- for not addressing how much of a bigot Jill's father is.
Snake Lady noir crime
This is a noir whodunnit with more twists than a corkscrew. A- for making me lose count on how many wrong statements the police ended up making to the press.
Pageantry church and state, bigotry, homophobia, transsexualism
When the forthcoming nativity scene is sued off public propery, the past of one of the parties to the lawsuit comes to light. This episode shares some properties with the Potato-Man one, but is more clearcut. The ending seems more optimistic at first, but like everything else, it comes at a price. A-/B+
This is a very weak disc overall. B-/C+
High tidings teenage sex
It's the night before Christmas, and the Brock family is on the edge of breaking apart when Jimmy Brock goes ballistic as he walks in on Kimberly having sex. Then, Kenny shoots Santa.
Not a bad episode per se, but from a European perspective, it's a bit What are they so upset about, it's just sex, duh. To his possible credit, Jimmy's bigotry is not so much about protecting virginity as in market value, but about his children's growing up driving the point home that he too will get old and die — and indeed, he has never looked as old as in this episode. B-
Frog Man Whacky crimes
A frog-themed villain operates in Rome, but it's all fun and games until one of the deputies ends up at Death's door.
Bad moon rising Menopause, teenage sexuality, whacky crimes
Manages to avoid coming over as bitches is crazy, but only just. Weak. B-/C+
Nuclear meltdowns Religious freedom, teenage pregnancy, incest, nuclear families, animal sacrifice, loyalty
Has potential, but ultimately falls flat on grounds of touching too many issues, but covering none. B-
Good / average disc. B
The Body Politic HIV, reproductive rights, life support Better send a squad, seems the pro-lifers want to kill the pro-choice people.
While a dentist is discovered to not having told his patients about his infection with the HIVirus, a comatose woman's being pregnant raises ethical questions. Meanwhile Kenny is under scrutiny for dating twins. This could have been great, but the ruling on one of the cases detracts from the episode, not so much on the grounds of my disagreeing with its intent, which I do, but on the ground of it being a cop-out and a travesty of the law. B-
Be my valentine Crime
Tense and atmospheric. Scary at times. Unfortunately, it's a sex-crime thing, and I'm tired of You'll never be safe, woman. I'd have given a pass for a rape culture name and blame, but we didn't get that. Lose additional points for not giving anything in the way of a motive at all. As a thriller, it's well executed otherwise, but it's just that, and we've come to expect more from PF. If this were what I wanted, I'd be watching CSI: Maimed female corpse unit, thank you very much. B-
Fetal attraction Medicine / ethics
Wambaugh's client and Jill's patient only has a hope of not losing the last of his motorical skills to Parkinson's disease through a new treatment that involves fetal tissue, but no hospital will lend its OR until it's better tested. Then the church comes forward saying it would provoke the formation of an abortion industry. B+
When a corpse is found that was exposed to strange radiation and bears markings that are not in an Earth language, a UFO spectacle breaks loose. Carter punches out a rabbi. Sadly only hinted that if you believe in the ghost of a dead Nazarene on a stick, you have no grounds to stand on to laugh at the UFO-crowd. B
Very much a mixed bag, sadly, despite containing what's arguably the best episode of Series One. B-
Rights of Passage Justice vs Law, dignity and self-determination, diversity If you are going to watch just one episode of Series One, this should be it.
An Indian tribe declares war on Rome when a golf course is to be built on their sacred burial ground. Meanwhile a group of little people protest Dr Brock who agreed to give a bullied child human growth hormone, and Matthew fights the school bully. This is touching, and made me laugh, cry, and think. Three almost perfect subplots; PF at its best. A+
Sugar and Spice Sexism, lesbianism, bigotry/conformity
As if to offset the previous episode, this one is complete rubbish. Girl kisses girl, wonders whether she's a lesbian. Parents freak like presumably only Americans can. Laughable. (In the B plot, Maxine doesn't get a promotion on grounds of being female — what is this, the anti-woman ep? But at least that plot has validity.) The featurette mentions that this episode actually boosted ratings and helped the show stay on air — go figure —, so it was good for something, I guess. C-/D+, insufferable.
The Lullaby League
Zack befriends a woman whose live is saved using a pig's organ; Max helps a fugitive give birth and is given custody of the child. C+ for being, uh, somewhat unremarkable, really.
SUMMARY FOR SERIES ONE
Best episodes: Mr Dreeb comes to town, Frank the Potato-Man, Sacred Hearts, Snake Lady, Rights of Passage.
So that's a goodly number of excellent episodes, yet still only a solid B on average, which seems a bit poor for "best show ever." A few thoughts:
— B as Picket Fences goes is still better than many, maybe most.
— It is the first series. Rarely does a show perform to its full potential in its first season.
— Some issues may seem a little less "hot" to me by now, because society has moved on, or because I have found an answer for myself.
— Likewise, some of the groundbreaking features of the show have been integrated into other shows and impress a little less now. I'm glad though that this is watchable for more than just historic purposes.
So while some episodes have lost their shine (though it's not the Captain Future effect where the show is just unwatchable in retrospective), others still stand strong. It's hard to give a fair now/then comparison as I missed most of Series One's episodes when I first saw the show. I do hope that Series Two will be released, I'd like to see how that fares, and whether the overall quality goes up to A-/B+ for Series Two and Three. Adjourned! Now, get out!
Addendum Two years down the road; rewatching; halfway through; liked them all so far. All very watchable, all entertaining. Keep in mind that I'm complaining on a high level up there; they're almost all good, just not all Emmy worthy.