Saturday, April 11, 2009

Blog DVD Review: The Paper Chase - Season One

It is Saturday, so that must mean it is time for the weekly Blog DVD Review! Today we take a look at Shout! Factory's The Paper Chase - Season One. The Paper Chase is a 1978-79 television series (later revived feom 1983-86) based on a 1970 novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr., as well as a 1973 film based on the novel. It follows the lives of law student James T. Hart and his classmates at Harvard Law School. See skees53's Blog DVD Review of The Paper Chase - Season One:

The Paper Chase - Season One (Shout!, $49.98) takes viewers through the "first years" of James T. Hart (James Stephens), a first year law school student at Harvard Law School, and his dealings with his tough as nails professor, Charles Kingsfield (John Houseman). James is a young man that grew up in a small Midwestern town and now faces a totally different world that he was never prepared for at Harvard Law School, but is determined to make it in spite of the challenges, the biggest challenge being Professor Kingsfield. As Professor Kingsfield's opening narrative for each episode says, "the study of law is something new and unfamiliar to most of you, unlike any other schooling you have ever known before. You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush and, if you survive, you'll leave thinking like a lawyer." The series was based upon the popular film and book of the same title, and ran for one season on CBS in 1978-1979, and was later revived as one of the first series on Showtime in 1983 to 1986.
Marilu Henner (Taxi) guest stars in the pilot episode, where we first meet our cast of characters, and things don't start out so well for Hart as he arrives late for Kingsfield's class. One of Hart's classmates may be in serious trouble, and decides to count on Hart to defend him from expulsion in "Great Expectations." Hart finds the perfect girlfriend but learns a secret that he'd rather not know when her father is killed (by mobsters) in "Nancy." Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) guest stars in "Da Da," where one of Hart's classmates is having a hard enough time dealing with married life, let alone the fact that his wife (Cattrall) is pregnant! The women's liberation movement hits Harvard Law when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is on campus and asked why he has never hired a female law clerk in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
One of the classmates finds out why it is never acceptable to cheat in "An Act of Desperation." In "The Man in the Chair," the study group has a new member that is in a wheelchair and they do a lot for him--in fact, too much--which backfires. Hart tutors a black woman that was admitted to the college by affirmative action when he is short on cash in "A Matter of Honor." Hart gets to be Kingsfield's apprentice in "The Apprentice." We go into another class at the law school in "Once More with Feeling," and this professor (Robert Reed, The Brady Bunch) has some serious ethical problems. Hart is out to do better than Kingsfield did on an earlier case in "The Clay Footed Idol." Hart and Kingsfield go directly against each other in a legal case in "The Tables Down at Ernie's."
The set has the three standard double slimcases inside the slipcase. Inside each slimcase, we find two discs (for a total of six discs), which really have no artwork except for the series name on different law-related backgrounds. The back of each slimcase lists all of the episodes contained on the discs, and there is also an episode booklet that contains episode descriptions, original airdates, and even quotes from some of the episodes. The menus on the set are very basic, with the theme song playing in the background (performed by Seals and Croft of "Summer Breeze" fame, by the way), and options of Play All and Episodes. That is really about all there is to the menus. Once you select an episode, it plays immediately, with chapters placed at all of the appropriate places.
The video and audio quality of the episodes has a tendency to be a little rough at times, but it isn't terrible. The picture quality is rather clear, but there are some issues with grain and scratches, and there are some unusual color issues at the beginning of some of the episodes. The audio is somewhat dull, but adequate, presented in mono. Closed-captioning is nowhere to be found on the set. There is some variance in runtimes (running anywhere from about 46 minutes to 48 minutes), and since I've never seen the series before this DVD set, it is hard to say whether or not this is normal. However, my best guess is that this fluctuation is nothing to be concerned with, and that the episodes are probably fine.
Unlike virtually every other recent Shout! Factory release, we are left with no special features on this set. It is unfortunate, but it isn't a big deal. The series really didn't produce any prominent actors, as most of them did not really go on to bigger things after the series ended. Really, in a way, the lack of special features almost is almost fitting for a series like this--it allows the episodes to speak for themselves.
This is the first time that I've ever seen the series, and I have to admit that I found the series, much like Professor Kingsfield's demeanor, a bit difficult to approach at first. This is definitely one of those series that requires an attention span to watch the episodes. You can't just have it on in the background while you are doing something else; you have to fully focus on the series (again, just like you would if you were studying for Kingsfield's class). But there is no question that this series is a quality series with solid writing and scripts. This is not a series that I'd recommend for any classic TV fan in general, because many people out there will have a hard time understanding the series, but for fans of more "sophisticated" programming (or law school students) are certain to enjoy this series. Of course, fans of the film will also enjoy this series, as there are many similarities to the film. You will now be dismissed... but only when I permit you to do so!

Reviewed by skees53
(4/5 stars)

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