A look back at one critic’s opinion on the best 10 episodes, chronological order, from the five years.
1. “Part IV” (original airdate: March 25, 1997)
What typically distinguishes “The Practice” from more routine legal dramas is the personal investment these lawyers have in their cases. That was certainly true for the firm’s first truly high-stakes court battle, the centerpiece of the show’s initial six-episode midseason run. It pitted green-at-the-gills associate Lindsay Dole (Kelli Williams) against her condescending former law professor, Anderson Pearson (Edward Herrmann in a recurring role that would win him an Emmy), taking on a tobacco firm on behalf of a widower. Belying her demure ingenue image, Lindsay stuns Pearson with a take-no-prisoners opening statement that changes the dynamics of the faceoff.
2. “Betrayal” (original airdate: Sept. 23, 1997)
Another atypical aspect of the series is the flamboyant nature of the firm’s clients, none more so than Joey Heric (John Larroquette in another Emmy-winning guest turn). A narcissistic, gay psychopath, Heric is first seen standing over the body of his dead lover, into whom he has planted a knife. Not only does this gleeful manipulator get away with murder, he’ll show up again in exactly the same bloody circumstances later in the season. And he’ll get off again.
3. “Sex, Lies and Monkeys” (original airdate: Oct. 18, 1997)
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder in this memorable episode, during which Ellenor (Camryn Manheim, in a highlight of her Emmy-winning season) is sued for emotional distress by the blind date she dumped, the mousy podiatrist George Vogelman (Michael Monks). He, of course, would return later in a later episode with a severed head in his medical bag, sparking all manner of mayhem.
4. “The Spirit of America” (original airdate: Nov. 22, 1997)
One of the show’s most distinctive stand-alone episodes was shot in documentary style, with a film unit following the lawyers as they desperately race against an 18-hour deadline to earn a stay of execution for a convicted murderer. It’s an especially strong showcase for Michael Badalucco’s Jimmy Berluti, who finds his hard-line position on capital punishment challenged by his encounter with the condemned man.
5. “Line of Duty” (original airdate: Jan. 5, 1998)
Bobby (Dylan McDermott), at this point still romantically involved with Assistant District Attorney Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), sets up a series-long antagonism with the DA’s Office when he tips off a client based on information overheard while sleeping with Helen, resulting in the death of three police officers.
6. “One of Those Days” (original airdate: Nov. 8, 1998)
With poor George Vogelman on trial for murder in the bizarre beheading case, armchair lawyers were introduced to the term “Plan B,” a desperate measure that involves diverting suspicion away from the defendant and toward one of the victim’s nearest and dearest. In this explosive case, the target is the dead woman’s unsuspecting brother.
7. “Judge and Jury” (original airdate: Jan. 17, 1999)
Though not a cast regular, Holland Taylor won a supporting actress Emmy for her recurring work this season as the libidinous Judge Roberta Kittleson, who in this episode reveals to a squirming Bobby — in the middle of a case that he’s trying in her court — that she had an erotic dream about him. Ethics, shmethics. Ain’t we got fun?
8. “Happily Ever After” (original airdate: May 9, 1999)
One of the great season-ending cliffhangers of all time. When Lindsay is stabbed by someone wearing a nun’s habit, after having earlier presided over the acquittal of a notorious nun killer, the whodunit search implicates all manner of suspects, including Judge Kittelson and the perversely playful Joey Heric. In the shocking final shot, we see George Vogelman walking the streets in nun drag, looking most sinister. This twist had everyone buzzing all summer long.
9. “Legacy” (original airdate: Oct. 17, 1999)
James Whitmore, yet another guest Emmy winner, returns as Bobby’s mentally deteriorating former mentor Raymond Oz, who hires his protege to keep his wife from declaring him incompetent. While this case has tragic consequences (for Mr. and Mrs. Oz), a more whimsical subplot introduces Ernie Sabella in the recurring role of born-loser lawyer Harland Bassett, who’s assigned a reluctant Eugene (Steve Harris) as co-counsel in hopes of finally winning a case.
10. “Mr. Hinks Goes to Town” (original airdate: Nov. 26, 2000)
Introducing Michael Emerson as the current season’s most unforgettable villain, the creepily reptilian William Hinks, an accused serial killer who freely admits his crimes. Is he delusional, meaning he’s actually innocent, or is he the craftiest player in the courtroom? Hinks proceeds in future episodes to haunt and bedevil the lawyers even from beyond the grave.
Matt Roush is senior TV critic at TV Guide.