I am a huge fan of television legal dramas, and am still mourning the fact that “The Good Wife,” one of my all-time favorite television series, has concluded its run after seven great seasons of epic courtroom battles, office intrigue and politicians run amok. Alicia Florrick, high-powered attorney and wife of the disgraced Governor of Illinois, may have moved on to a new chapter in her life, but I was left looking forlornly for my next fix of high-stakes legal wrangling. How lucky for me that several new series have hit the airwaves in the past year to ease my suffering, each of them unique, intriguing and incredibly well-done. Even better: each is a single-season series with a relatively small number of episodes, so you’ll be able to come up for air on occasion should you decide to binge-watch any or all of them. So, grab a seat in the gallery — court is in session!
The Night of A naive Pakistani-American college student living in Queens stands accused of the horrific murder of a beautiful, young white woman after their chance meeting leads to a drug and alcohol-fueled night together at her apartment. This acclaimed HBO series offers a gritty look at the machinations behind the criminal justice system, including the initial murder investigation; the battles between prosecutors and defense attorneys, both in and out of the courtroom; and the brutal realities of the prison system. The series is chock-full of outstanding performances, most notably from Riz Ahmed as accused murderer Naz Khan, who remembers little of the night in question; Bill Camp as the worn-out detective who can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong with the case; and John Turturro as the two-bit defense attorney who may be in over his head as he stumbles his way through a case that is well beyond his pay grade. This eight-episode series arrives on library shelves this week, so be sure to place a copy on hold.
American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson This series just cleaned up at the annual Emmy Awards, taking home nine of the coveted trophies, including the award for best limited series. Most of us are familiar with the story: a famous Black athlete is accused of murdering his former wife and a friend of hers, with the ensuing trial playing out against the backdrop of the explosive racial tensions that permeated the city of Los Angeles in 1994 and 1995. While the series certainly lays out the events which famously led to Simpson’s arrest for murder, the focus of the series is really on the attorneys who made up the prosecution and defense teams, as well as the circus-like atmosphere that enveloped the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the televised trial, where each of the attorneys became celebrities in their own right. A fascinating look at one of the most famous courtroom battles of all time. The stellar cast includes Emmy winners Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, as well as John Travolta, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Nathan Lane and David Schwimmer. Ten-episode series.
O.J.: Made in America Lest you think the above-mentioned series offers all there is to know about O.J. Simpson, rest assured that this in-depth documentary series produced by ESPN has a lot to offer. The series examines both the rise and fall of Simpson, providing great context and analysis of his rise to fame as a pro-football player and the powerful personality that propelled him to a rarefied celebrity status that extended well beyond the football field. The brutal murder of his former wife and the resulting trial are examined in detail, with fascinating video excerpts of the trial and interviews with key participants. Almost as shocking as the outcome of the trial is the downward spiral that Simpson’s life took after his famous acquittal, which ultimately led to his conviction on armed-robbery charges, for which he is still serving time in a Nevada prison. A well-executed study of an American icon’s shameful fall from grace. Ten-hour, multi-part series, available in both DVD and Bluray formats.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst The ultimate fate of the subject of this HBO documentary series is still to be determined, as Robert Durst currently awaits trial on murder charges in California. Heir to a New York real-estate fortune, Durst first came to the attention of law enforcement officials when his first wife disappeared without a trace in 1982, and again eighteen years later, when a friend of his turned up dead. Durst was never charged in either case, but both investigations were re-opened when Durst was arrested for the murder and dismemberment of a neighbor in Galveston, Texas in 2001. Although a shocking verdict in that trial led to only a short prison stay, Durst remained a suspect in the earlier crimes. Enter director Andrew Jarecki, who asked to interview Durst for this documentary. Durst’s cooperation was surprising in itself, but went on to make headlines when he inadvertently implicated himself in the earlier cases. The series offers another eye-opening portrait of the criminal justice system at work, and the dedication of law enforcement and legal professionals to see that justice is done. Six-episode series.