In its writing, acting and direction, recent Emmy-winning drama series “Picket Fences” is more subdued than it was last season, actually making it more powerful.
Last year, the writers, in exposing the underbelly of an ostensibly sleepy small town, occasionally seemed to be going for laughs or outlandishness as much as anything else.
However, this new episode is gritty, yet retains enough of the quirkiness and humanity that make “Fences” special.
The series starts its second season with a bang. Mayor Bill Pugen (Michael Keenan) shoots dead a would-be carjacker, pitting the people of Rome, who support the vigilante pol, against sheriff Jimmy Brock (Tom Skerritt), who is determined to enforce the law.
Exec producer David E. Kelley, who wrote the episode, doesn’t take the easy way out, establishing potential plot threads for a good part of the season.
Under Michael Pressman’s controlled direction, all the actors seem to have a firm, comfortable grasp on their roles. Defense at-
torney Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) is now a character, not a caricature; Jill Brock (Kathy Baker, in a finely modulated performance) is a more morally ambivalent character than she was last season.
The moral center of the show remains Jimmy, who is cast as the outlaw in this episode. Skerritt’s portrayal is perfect, and subtle.
Addition of a black D.A. (Don Cheadle, in a steady perf) to homogeneous Rome is a good touch. His race is not an issue in this episode, but given the show’s wont to explore prejudice, it won’t be a surprise if it becomes one later.
That status also lets him express some shock at some of the stranger characters in town, such as Wambaugh and busybody Ginny (Zelda Rubinstein), letting the audience know that the writers know some of these people are, well, a little off-center.
Lori Jan Coleman’s editing and Dennis Smith’s camerawork are superior. Cast is also fine.
And, yes, the Harry Smith and Ed Koch listed in the credits really are CBS’s early-morning man and the former Gotham mayor.