L.A. Law" enters its seventh season with numerous cast changes and an episode that mixes broad comedy with high drama and contemporary issues. So what else is new at McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Becker?

L.A. Law” enters its seventh season with numerous cast changes and an episode that mixes broad comedy with high drama and contemporary issues. So what else is new at McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Becker?

John Masius and John Tinker, Emmy winners for “St. Elsewhere,” have joined as co-executive producers. They have scripted a season opener that– after sticking it to smarmy Arnie Becker (Corbin Bernsen) in the pre-title sequence–quickly and amusingly explains departure of two principal characters: Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) has moved to New York (to convert a decrepit bar into a tony restaurant as in “Love and War”?), and bisexual C.J. Lamb (Amanda Donohoe) has joined the women’s professional golf tour. Boisterous Susan Bloom (Conchata Ferrell) is gone, too; her departure remains unexplained.

Becker, tired of handling divorces, is taking on general cases, first among them that of a theme park employee who’s been fired for stepping out of character while on the job. Another of the episode’s jokes: the “character” is that of Homer Simpson, with the defendant played by Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer on the Fox Broadcasting Co. series.

A Martinez, best known as a regular on the soap “Santa Barbara,” steps in as Daniel Morales, formerly an attorney in private practice in … Santa Barbara. Morales is a single parent and evidently the show’s new resident hunk: the writers have removed Martinez’s shirt, gleefully gratuitously, within the first half-hour.

Lightheartedness turns to drama as news of the Rodney King verdict appears on Leland McKenzie’s (Richard Dysart) television, with Jonathan Rollins (Blair Underwood), now a city councilman, looking on.

Within minutes, firm partners Stuart Markowitz (Michael Tucker) and Douglas Brackman Jr. (Alan Rachins) are drawn directly into the consequent fray.

Zoey Clemmons’ (Cecil Hoffman) current status, recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by an unsatisfied client and inherited from last season’s cliffhanger, seems out-of-place against L.A. riots.

Several story lines have been set up, with riot aftermath and Rollins’ political career among the more promising. Morales’ attempt to balance his professional and family lives risks sappiness unless Masius and Tinker manage a twist without intruding into “Murphy Brown” territory.

Departing characters will be missed; it’s too bad that earlier scripters couldn’t do more with Ferrell’s entertainment attorney or Donohue’s witty character.

In any event, “L.A. Law” remains nothing if not watchable–tech credits are as slick as the acting. Show promises to continue its stature as one of NBC’s landmark series.

L.A. Law L.A. Lawless

(Thurs. (22),10-11 p.m., NBC-TV)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Executive producer, Rick Wallace; co-executive producers, John Masius, John Tinker; supervising producer, Elodie Keene; senior producer, James C. Hart; coordinating producer, Don Behrns; director, Wallace; script, Masius, Tinker.

Crew

Camera, Timothy E. Wade; editor, Alec Smight; sound, Jacques Nosco, Ken Burton, Brad Block; music, Mike Post; production designer, Michael L. Mayer.

Cast

Cast: Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Alan Rachins, Michael Tucker, Susan Ruttan, Blair Underwood, Larry Drake, Sheila Kelly, John Spencer, A Martinez, Richard Dysart, Cecil Hoffman, Dan Castellaneta, Anne Haney, Marilyn McIntyre, Steven Kampmann, Joel Swetow, Lanyard Williams, Gary Cervantes, Stan Shaw, Chip Campbell, David Chung, Quincy Adams Jr.
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