Thursday, January 19, 2012

Season 5 overview

Season 5 is the first full season after William Talman was reinstated as a regular cast member. I find it a bit sad that just when we got that back to normal, Ray Collins’ health declined and he could no longer be present all the time as he had previously been. I had been looking forward to seeing him and William interact again.

Season 5 is an experimental season in several ways. We meet two new supporting characters, one of whom stays and one who quietly fades out. Perry returns to his season 1 roots on occasion and performs some eyebrow-raising stunts, such as obscuring his client’s fingerprints on a car by getting a group of teens to push it after deliberately flattening a tire. (That is totally tampering with evidence. Hamilton Burger would have blown a gasket if he had found out.)

The most important thing that happens in season 5 is that we meet a fellow named Wesley Lau. In the second episode he portrays the defendant, Amory Fallon—a troubled man who is certain his wife is messing around with his partner in business. Amory is a good person, as is his wife, and by the end of the episode they have reconciled. The show’s staff apparently saw something they really liked in Wesley, as it was not long before he joined the cast as a regular. But instead of Amory Fallon, his character became the stand-in for Lieutenant Tragg—Lieutenant Andy Anderson.

Andy is an interesting character, although in season 5 he doesn’t branch out much into his own territory. The writers largely gave him dialogue meant for Tragg. I don’t know if that’s because they were just lazy or if they weren’t expecting Andy to stick around very long. Or both.

He is often seen working with Tragg on cases, appearing in some scenes by himself so as to lighten the work load on Ray Collins. In other episodes he is alone throughout (albeit often assisted by good old Sergeant Brice). It’s most unclear whether he is always an associate of Tragg’s or if Tragg, being older and more experienced on the police force, is training Andy.

He hasn’t fully established himself as a friendlier, more easy-going person in season 5, but again, that’s largely due to him not having his own dialogue. In some episodes there is some sense that he is just not as dogged as Tragg in pursuing Perry and Paul in their law-bending, but that doesn’t really come into play until the next season.

The other character we meet is someone we already met at the end of season 4—David Gideon. Introduced in The Grumbling Grandfather, David is young, impulsive, and a former law student. After his experience as a defendant in a murder case, he takes up law again. Perry let him study from his own books while he was in jail.

In season 5 David is still a law student. He hangs out at Perry’s office, reading books in the library and sometimes trying to help out on cases. He investigates various angles and sometimes ends up in trouble, one time even getting drunk for his efforts. He is an eager beaver, wanting to please and to help. He usually manages to do so.

David is not popular with fans, at least not that I’ve seen. The usual complaints are that he is annoying. What actually constitutes this opinion, I am not certain. I frequently see it when a character younger than the rest of the main cast is introduced, in any series.

I have nothing against David myself. I think he was portrayed quite realistically and that he’s fine as an occasional player. As a regular, perhaps the show would have got overly crowded with his presence and he would have worn out his welcome. But I feel a bit sad that he’s last seen around the middle of the season and then vanishes altogether, with not so much as a mention afterwards.

(I admit I haven’t found a place yet for David in my stories, but I’ve thought about it long and hard. Like it or not, he was important in the first half of season 5, and I don’t want to ignore that he exists.)

Interestingly and perhaps amusingly enough, his actor Karl Held later joined the prosecuting side of the law. He appears as an assistant to Simon Oakland’s prosecuting attorney in Ready for the People, which I wish so very much I could locate and watch.

Season 5 brings us several more adaptations of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books, which became scarce the last season or two in favor of many TV series-only plots. Perhaps the returning book influence is the reason why Perry reverts to some of that law-bending behavior that Hamilton and Tragg find so frustrating. It was a frequent occurrence in the books, to my knowledge.

It may also be because of these season 1 influences that Hamilton is not as friendly as he was in seasons 2, 3, and 4. In 4, of course, he was rarely around because of the scandal with his actor. When he was around, however, the episodes almost always included some of those wonderful scenes I love so much that show his growing friendship with Perry. Perhaps that was a bit of real-life sneaking through, with William Talman and Raymond Burr glad to see each other again. They were very close friends. I believe William even said that Raymond was his best friend.

In season 5 the characters very rarely share friendly exchanges outside of court, which is surprising after the previous three seasons. Of course, season 5 gives us The Traveling Treasure, which is not only one of my favorites of the season but of the series as a whole. It features Perry and Hamilton working together to solve the case, as they often do in the seasons that follow. Their interaction is quite relaxed and congenial.

There are only a handful of other season 5 episodes that have scenes such as this. Most of them occur before the halfway mark and The Shapely Shadow. While it certainly bears an intriguing and intense plot, this episode also marks what is probably Hamilton’s worst day in court. I gave this episode a more detailed post in the past, so I won’t reiterate it all now, but I will say again how I cringed and felt sorry for him when he grew desperate to save his case and ended up making quite a fool of himself in front of the jury.

I can’t help wondering if he smarted from that defeat for the rest of the season. It would certainly fit with how the friendly interludes are all but gone. There is really only one in the latter half of the season, in The Promoter’s Pillbox. Then he finishes out the season with The Lonely Eloper and a comment that Della actually deems “nasty.” Della rarely ever says anything about him, and since that is the only time I’ve ever heard her speak against him, it seems significant.

Of course, I should also mention that, in spite of things such as The Lonely Eloper, Perry and Hamilton's interaction in season 5 is not especially antagonistic, either. It seems rather static, oftentimes neither good or bad. As I recall, many season 5 episodes unfold without even a clash in the courtroom. Others have such clashes, but they are not like the episodes of season 9 that I complain about, the ones that seem to throw all character development to the wind.

Overall, I wasn’t fully sure what to make of season 5. There are episodes I absolutely love, such as The Traveling Treasure and The Renegade Refugee. There are episodes I consider more average, but I’m not sure I want to name them now, as I feel they deserve a second viewing before I pass judgment. And there are episodes I could do without, such as The Lonely Eloper. (Completely aside from Hamilton’s comment, the defendant and titular character really quite irritated me. Of course, maybe I’d be more lenient upon another viewing.)

Naturally every season has its ups and downs. Sometimes I felt that season 5 had more average episodes than some other seasons. But I could have been merely shooting from the perspective of not liking that there were so few friendship scenes between Perry and Hamilton. After all, since that’s what attracted me to the show in the first place, I can’t deny that I find those scenes among the meat of the series.

I am not certain what the general fan consensus is on season 5 and how they feel its episodes hold up in comparison to other seasons. I will be taking special note of the episodes the next time they come around on my local station. I’m curious to see if my opinions still hold true, as far as I’m concerned. As it is, right now there are four things I’m especially grateful to season 5 for bringing us, with a fifth as runner-up.

First, William Talman as a regular cast member again.
Second, Wesley Lau.
Third, The Traveling Treasure.
Fourth, The Borrowed Baby.
And fifth, The Renegade Refugee.

I definitely plan to make posts on all of these episodes, and other season 5 ventures, in the future. Meanwhile, I am even more grateful for what came next. Season 6, as regular readers probably know by now, is just about my most favorite season ever (with the possible exception of 2).

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