The Law Is a Gas

Like Family: From left, Alan Rachins, Harry Hamlin, Michael Tucker, and Jill Eikenberry in L.A. Law: The Movie .Photo: Eike Schroter/NBC Photos

Much as I’d like to think that L.A. Law was a hit for almost a decade because of its attention to hot-button issues like race quotas, outing, and AIDS, the fact is that we stayed tuned for the slick moves – the Moog synthesizing of big money, hard bodies, and soap shenanigans, the dwarf tossing and Venus’s-flytrap sex jokes. From Steven Bochco, Gregory Hoblit, Terry Louise Fisher, David E. Kelley, William Finkelstein, and the McKenzie-Brackman commedia dell’arte ensemble, we could expect pro television. We finally got sick of it, but they knew what they were doing.

And still do. L.A. Law: The Movie reunites most of the original cast, in a teleplay by Finkelstein. Michael Kuzak (Harry Hamlin) stops running his hot new restaurant to try to save an old client on death row, and is opposed in court by D.A. Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey). Douglas Brackman Jr. (Alan Rachins), who took over the firm when Leland McKenzie (Richard Dysart) retired, has trouble with his son. Ann Kelsey (Jill Eikenberry) and Stuart Markowitz (Michael Tucker) have been swindled by their personal guru. Arnie Becker (Corbin Bernsen) is being sued for divorce by his younger wife, who is represented by a vengeful Abby Perkins (Michele Greene). Roxanne Melman (Susan Ruttan), a single mother still not rid of her direct-mail ex-husband Dave Meyer (Dann Florek), is now the office manager. Benny (Larry Drake) remains the office boy.Never mind the new faces, crooked cops, corrupt politicians, or ungrateful dead. I feel about the reunion movie the way Grace feels about her new (old) relationship with Michael. Is it really love, she wonders, or “just finding your old sweater hidden in a drawer?”

About Dinotopia, the six-hour miniseries based on James Gurney’s best-selling fantasies, at least it’s better than Spider-Man. And not just because I like several specifics in Dinotopia’s legal code, like “One raindrop raises the sea” and “Give more, take less.” But this story of half-brothers (Tyrone Leitso and Wentworth Miller) washed ashore on an island where homo saps and dinosaurs commingle moves instead of drags. Even if Waterfall City is a much too Disneyfied idea of a Tuscan hill town crossed with a Bavarian beer garden, the very big birds and reptiles are more fun to look at than Willem Dafoe. And the psychic maiden Marion (Katie Carr) is as radiant as her sun stones.

Uncommon Courage: Patriotism and Civil Liberties (May 7; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) looks at the thousands of Japanese-American young men who served as U.S. military linguists in the Pacific theater during World War II, even as their families were arrested and confined to prison camps.

Search for the First Human: A Secrets of the Dead Special (May 8; 9 to 10 p.m.; Channel 13) takes us to Kenya to look at the bones of a hominid said to have been dead for 6 million years. If so, maybe it will shut up Donald Johanson for a month or two; he has been bloviating about his 3.2 million-year-old Lucy nonstop since 1974.

Gulag (May 9; 9 to 11 p.m.; TLC) is a remarkable BBC documentary, with previously unseen Russian archival footage, that manages to interview not only survivors of the Soviet forced-labor camps but even a guard or two and a camp commandant not at all repentant for the 20 million lost.

Due East (May 12; 8 to 9:45 p.m.; showtime), adapted from two novels by Valerie Sayers, requires 16-year-old Clara Bryant, a high-school brain and National Merit Scholar, to grow up fast when her boyfriend dies in a motorcycle accident and the adults in her life – Robert Forster, Cybill Shepherd, Kate Capshaw – can’t seem to cope with the fact that she’s pregnant.

The Road from Coorain (May 13; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) stars Juliet Stevenson as the extraordinary mother we first met in Jill Ker Conway’s memoir of growing up on a sheep station in the desolate Australian bush. To escape, the daughter, played by Katherine Slattery, had to have been extraordinary, too. From Masterpiece Theatre, we do not get a cute Australia.

L.A. Law: The Movie
Sunday, May 12, 9 to 11 p.m.; NBC.
Sunday, May 12, 7 to 9 p.m.; Monday and Tuesday, May 13 and 14, 8 to 10 p.m.; ABC.

The Law Is a Gas