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Picket Fences Without Mercy

Wambaugh doesn't have much to do in this episode -- he's teamed with the other lawyer in small Rome, Wis., Franklin Dell (Denis Arndt), when the town's prominent physician and former acting mayor, Jill Brock (Kathy Baker), is jailed for upping a terminal cancer patient's shot of pain-killing morphine.

Wambaugh doesn’t have much to do in this episode — he’s teamed with the other lawyer in small Rome, Wis., Franklin Dell (Denis Arndt), when the town’s prominent physician and former acting mayor, Jill Brock (Kathy Baker), is jailed for upping a terminal cancer patient’s shot of pain-killing morphine.

#Filmed in Los Angeles by David E. Kelley Prods. in association with 20th Television. Executive producer, writer, David E. Kelley; co-exec producer, Michael Pressman; supervising producers, Michael Nankin, Ann Donahue, Alice West; producers, Geoffrey Neigher, Jonathan Pontell, Robert Breech; director, James Frawley; camera, Dennis Smith; editor, Ed Rothkowitz; production designer, Jeffrey L. Goldstein; set designer, Pamela Klamer; sound, David Schneiderman; music, Stewart Levin. #Cast: Tom Skerritt, Kathy Baker, Lauren Holly, Costas Mandylor, Holly Marie Combs, Justin Shenkarow, Adam Wylie, Fyvush Finkel, Kelly Connell, Ray Walston, Don Cheadle, Denis Arndt, Courtney B. Vance, Claudette Sutherland, Daniel Beer, Steve Vinovich, Bridget Connors, Jeff Horny, Priscilla Pointer, Jennifer Fujii, Susan Wood, Edward J. Rosen, Jeffrey Nickleson. Never loath to take on major issues, the producers of “Picket Fences” devote a two-part story, beginning tonight, to the moral problems surrounding assisted suicide. Typically, script by creator/exec producer David E. Kelley manages to score strong points on both sides of a controversial subject while providing one of the funniest shows on television. And it doesn’t even have (or need) a laugh track.

The fatal overdose was at the request of the patient and family, but Rome’s sheriff (Tom Skerritt), sworn to new get-tough policy, arrests her for voluntary manslaughter.

Of course, Sheriff Jimmy Brock is Jill’s husband; during the run of “Picket Fences,” Jimmy has arrested so many members of his family (including Jill, at least once before) that show’s fans won’t be surprised if he eventually puts himself in jail.

Adding to Jill’s woes, D.A. Jonathan Littleton’s (Don Cheadle) boss Warren Grier (Courtney B. Vance) is on hand to prosecute personally, for reasons that are unveiled throughout both parts of the story.

Featured characters in this episode include Rome’s wise judge, Henry Bone (Ray Walston). Those seeking in-jokes should watch for a prosecution witness played by Priscilla Pointer, as a Chicago physician named Ellen Smithie.

Other regulars don’t have much to do, though most show up for a complementary subplot in the second half.

Current episode is more straightforward than usual, though another of Rome’s seemingly unique crimes — serial swan killing — pops up along with the deputy and kids in the conclusion next week.

Acting throughout is exemplary, and it’s nice to see regulars Lauren Holly and Cheadle and recurring player Arndt given a bit more to chew on than usual.

Tech credits under James Frawley’s assured direction are strong.

Picket Fences Without Mercy

(Fri. (31), 10-11 p.m., CBS)

Production: Of course, with Fyvush Finkel on hand as irascible attorney Douglas Wambaugh , "Picket Fences" doesn't need such artificial enhancement. The show is unusual in that Wambaugh may be (in his words) "a character," but he's also a brilliant attorney, no matter how unorthodox his courtroom style may be.

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