Despite declining ratings and the constant threat of cancellation, the second season of Murder One
was every bit as good as the first
. With the addition of Anthony LaPaglia as a well-chosen replacement for departing series star Daniel Benzali (whose character, Teddy Hoffman, presumably retired from practicing law), the Los Angeles firm of Hoffman & Associates found itself with an able strategist in three compelling murder cases, unfolding over the course of 18 memorable episodes. LaPaglia (who would later star in Without a Trace
) plays Jimmy Wyler, a former Deputy District Attorney whose defense methods (a combination of ethical conviction and legal manipulation) are challenged when he defends a young woman (Missy Crider) suspected of killing L.A.'s philandering mayor on the eve of reelection. With episodes (or "Chapters") 5 through 7, the season smoothly transitions to Wyler's defense of an NBA superstar (Rick Worthy) suspected of killing his team's owner. The third case begins with Chapter 13, when Wyler defends a bright but unstable serial killer (convincingly played by Pruitt Taylor Vince) nicknamed "The Street Sweeper" for self-righteously "executing" 17 ex-convicts who'd committed heinous crimes.
Superior production values, direction, and especially writing (much of it by series cocreators Steven Bochco and Charles Eglee) were seamlessly carried over from season 1, in addition to most of Murder One's excellent supporting cast. Along with temporarily replaced law-firm receptionist Louis Hines (John Fleck), Barbara Bosson returns as prosecutor Miriam Grasso, whose courtroom sparring with LaPaglia is consistently lively, smart, and strategically intriguing. Romance blossoms slowly but sensibly between Wyler and associate Justine Appleton (Mary McCormack), and the addition of new associate Aaron Mosely (D.B. Woodside, who later played the President's brother on 24) inspires a competitive edge between himself and fellow associates Chris Docknovich (Michael Hayden) and the smarmy, underachieving Arnold Spivak (played to perfection by J.C. MacKenzie). Clayton Rohner and Jack Kehler round out the cast as (respectively) L.A. Detective Vince Baggio and private investigator Frank Szymanski, who dig for facts that may, or may not, strengthen Wyler's defense. Throughout the season, guest stars like Ralph Waite (as a wealthy, threatening power broker), Ron Canada (a no-nonsense judge), Gregory Itzin (as L.A.'s scheming new mayor) and John Pleshette (as the comically sleazy Hollywood producer Gary Blondo) make vital contributions to the unfolding plots, with mysteries that are cleverly maintained for maximum viewer involvement.
Unfortunately, excellence did not translate into ratings. The morally complex Murder One was dealt a fatal blow when an extended hiatus was imposed after Chapter 12 was broadcast on January 23, 1997. Only the most loyal viewers saw the final six episodes of this truncated season, broadcast back-to-back over three nights the following May. By that time, the series' fate was sealed. Appropriately, the "Final Verdict: Season Two" featurette (the only bonus on these DVDs) functions as a bittersweet eulogy, with director Randy Zisk, producer/director Marc Buckland, and primary cast members (not including LaPaglia) praising all aspects of the show, and expressing fond memories for a series that brought out the best from everyone involved. --Jeff Shannon