Monday, December 15, 2008

Mysteries on TV: A Look Back at Murder One and Kidnapped

Mysteries on TV

, your source for the most complete selection of detective, amateur sleuth, private investigator, and suspense television mystery series now available or coming soon to DVD, on Mondays typically profiles series that have DVD sets being released the following Tuesday. With the next new release of a mystery series not scheduled until after the first of the year, we thought we'd take the last three Mondays of 2008 to highlight some of our favorite series.

This week: two series that followed a single storyline for an entire season.

In 1995, ABC made (what was at the time) a bold move in developing a 23 episode season of the series that followed the murder trial of a popular Hollywood actor accused of killing a 15-year-old-girl. Fearing viewers might not return each week to the same storyline, ABC mitigated their risk somewhat by spending only part of the early episodes on the case while showcasing the trials of other defendents unrelated to the murder. Soon, however, the writers realized that the main murder plot was sufficiently compelling to devote each episode to the investigation and trial, and the side stories all but disappeared.

The casting for Murder One was spot on. Daniel Benzali was magnificant as Theodore Hoffman, the lead defense attorney for a high-profile Los Angeles law firm, whose quiet but authoritative voice commanded attention. Jason Gedrick and Stanley Tucci were both perfect in their respective roles, as Neil Avedon, the actor on trial for murder, and Richard Cross, the mysterious billionaire who was somehow involved in the lives of everyone involved. Other notable performances include Barbara Bosson as District Attorney Miriam Grasso and Patricia Clarkson as Hoffman's wife, Annie.

Murder One is one of our favorite series in that it works as both terrific television and has an intricate, twist-filled mystery plot. Unfortunately, this description only applies to the first season. For the second season, Hoffman was written out (on a personal leave of absense to spend more time with his family), replaced by Anthony LaPaglia as former DA Jimmy Wyler. And instead of a single case, several were covered over the course of the season. None of the stories were as compelling as the sensational murder of the first season, and though LaPaglia is a fine actor, Benzali as Hoffman was an impossible act to follow. The series was cancelled at the end of the second season.

For viewers who lament the recent trend of largely eliminating theme music from series television, Murder One has a mesmerizing Emmy-winning score written by Mike Post.

Both seasons of are currently available on DVD.

If it weren't for the internet, even the shortened season of may have never seen the light of day. NBC originally planned for a standard 22-24 episode season of the dramatic series to debut in September 2006. After airing just three episodes, NBC shortened the season to 13 episodes and then, after airing the fifth episode, announced the series was being moved online effectively killing it for most viewers.

One might read this opening paragraph and take a pass on the series. And one would be wrong to do so. Kidnapped is compelling television. The series starred Timothy Hutton and Dana Delany as Conrad and Ellie Cain, a wealthy New York couple whose lives are thrown into turmoil when their teenage son Leopold (played by Will Denton) is kidnapped. The Cain's hire an ex-FBI operative known only as Knapp (Jeremy Sisto) to find their son and return him safely home.

Viewers who start the series will be hard-pressed not to watch all 13 episodes in one marathon setting. We were prepared to view one, maybe two episodes every other day or so but after seeing the first two episodes, ending up watching it all over the course of 3 days. And then rewatching it several weeks later to see what we may have missed the first time. There are some minor problems, to be sure. The background music is far too loud and inappropriate for the first few episodes but gets better soon thereafter. The initial episodes begin several tangential storylines in anticipation of filling a complete 22-24 episode season, but many of these are left unresolved when the series was shortened to just 13 episodes. Still, reviewing the series as a whole, it's easy to overlook these early flaws.

The with background information on the series and characters. The individual episodes are no longer available online (at least, we couldn't find them), but the series is available on DVD.

Visit the Mysteries on TV website to discover more currently available on DVD.

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