This article is written by Abanti Bose, pursuing B.A.LL.B.(H) from Amity University Kolkata, India. This article talks about the top 10 binge-worthy, must-watch legal drama series for legal aspirants and young lawyers who are stuck at home amidst this pandemic.
A legal drama is a genre of television series that focuses on the narratives regarding legal practice and the justice system. It also sheds light on the lives of fictional attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, and any other person related to the practice of law portrayed in that television show. The focal point of legal dramas are events occurring in the courtroom, along with representing jury deliberations, settling legal matters outside the courtroom, or highlighting the effective functioning of the law firm. Some of the legal dramas fictionalize real events that have been litigated. Here is the list of ten binge-worthy legal drama television series which will keep you on the edge of your seat with riveting storylines and unexpected plot twists.
Top 10 gripping legal dramas to watch
“Suits” is one of the most prominent and famous legal drama television series of this generation. It gives law aspirants and law students the ambition to work in the corporate law firm. The series is created and written by Aaron Korsh and aired for nine consecutive seasons.
The show is set at a fictional New York City prestigious law firm and the first few seasons focus on a brilliant and ambitious lawyer Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht) and Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams), a law college dropout closing cases together and at the same keeping Mike’s educational background undisclosed. The show opens with Harvey interviewing Harvard law graduate candidates for the position of associate at his firm “Pearson Hardman,” and Mike was escaping from the undercover agents while delivering a suitcase of marijuana for a lump sum of money. As he was trying to get away from the agents, he stumbled into the interview for associates. During the interview, he impressed Harvey with his wits and his eidetic memory, thus compelling Harvey to hire him. The show features various legal standoffs, which also successfully depicted the precise condition of the American corporate law. It also drew attention to the ‘mentor-mentee’ relationship between Harvey and Mike. All the characters in the show had a certain role to contribute throughout the series, and their growth through the nine seasons is worth watching, which glued the audience to the television.
The drama inspired and sparked interest in law among various law students across the globe. Apart from being educative, the well-structured storyline and the dynamics of the characters also served entertainment purposes.
Law and Order
“Law and Order” is a 1990 American police procedural and legal drama series television series. The show is created by Dick Wolf, starring George Dzundza, Chris Noth, Dann Florek, Michael Moriarty, Richard Brooks, Steven Hill, Paul Sorvino, Carolyn McCormick, etc. and filmed throughout various locations in New York. This show aired for twenty seasons till 2010 and is the longest-running law enforcement series in American television. The drama showcases a complicated process of determining guilt and innocence while highlighting legal, ethical, and personal dilemmas.
The series follows a two-part approach; the first part of an episode is the investigation of a crime and apprehension of the suspect by the New York Police Department (NYPD), and the second part displays the prosecution of the defendant by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. The trial portion of the show rotates around the prosecutor’s point of view and convicting the defendants guilty of the crime. The show focuses on the involvement of the characters in the cases which are portrayed in each episode. The show’s structure relied on complex cases, which caused myriad problems for both the investigators and prosecutors. It is one of the most influential legal shows ever created with the riveting plot-line and congeneric characters.
How to Get Away with Murder
As the name suggests, the television series revolves around a brilliant criminal defence attorney and her attempts to prove the innocence of her clients before the court. The story centres a group of ambitious law students and their criminal defence professor getting entangled in an aberrant murder plot which changes the course of their lives. This legal drama television series was created by Peter Nowalk and premiered on ABC in September 2014.
Viola Davis plays the character of Annalise Keating, an exceptional criminal defence attorney and criminal law professor at the prestigious Philadelphia University, who, along with her two associates and five students, becomes entwined in a murder plot and at the same time was also representing her clients. The show begins with Annalise Keating entering the classroom and challenges her brightest students to solve a case. Only five of them make it to ‘Keating 5,’ a group where the students will get to work for the brilliant defence attorney. The show, apart from featuring trial scenes of occasional clients represented by Annalise Keating, explores two related murders through flashbacks and flashforwards sequence and how it weaved suspense throughout the initial season.
For the exemplary portrayal of the character, Viola Davis was the first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama series.
Although it is a thriller drama series, the lectures given by Annalise Keating serves the educational purpose for all the aspiring criminal lawyers across the globe. The show has been widely appreciated for the screenplay, the specific structure of the storyline, and the energetic dynamics of the characters.
Better Call Saul
It is one of the gripping drama series yet to be made. “Better Call Saul” is an American television and crime drama series created by Vince Gillian and Peter Gould. The television series is a prequel spin-off of Vince Gillian’s previous series “Breaking Bad.”
The show depicts the time frame of the early to mid-2000s in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It features the character development of Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk), a con man into a criminal defence attorney Saul Goodman. The character embraces his propensities who was previously a scam artist and begins to represent criminals while himself being deeply involved with the city’s criminal world. The show features Saul’s pursuit to focus on public defence and his fights for justice, which soon crosses path with the illegal drug trade in the region and also the troubling truce between the Salamanca family that serves the Juárez Cartel drug interest.
The way the show represents Jimmy’s will to turn his life around from the prior conman approaches and the character development is highly appreciated. It has received critical acclaim on how to produce a prequel and spin-off that defies expectations successfully. The television drama series does not necessarily entertain “Breaking Bad” fans, although it helps in a better understanding of the plotline.
“Damages” is an American legal thriller television series that consists of five seasons and premiered on FX in 2007. The series was created by writing and production team Daniel Zelman, Glenn Kessler, and Todd A. Kessler. This intense and whirlwind paced series takes a unique approach in describing a legal drama thriller and adrenaline-fueled characters.
Patty Hewes (played by Glenn Close) is a brilliant yet ruthless lawyer, and her protégée, a recent law school graduate Ellen Parsons (played by Rose Byrne) are the pivotal characters of the show. Each season highlights a major case that Hewes and her firm take while also examining the spirited relationship between Patty and Helen. The series is famous for the long cases, which have been delineated from a legal point of view while showcasing both the parties to the cases.
The first episode of the drama opens with the scene when a young law school graduate is handpicked by New York’s most revered and ruthless litigator, to be the first-year associate. And their attempt to expose an alleged corrupt former company CEO’s stock market manipulation and ends up as a suspect in a gruesome murder.
The show has been praised for incorporating legal technicalities in the writing, unanticipated plot-twists, and non-linear narrative. Verne Gay from Newsday highly appreciated the show and stated, “gorgeous acted, written paced, structured and conceived it remains one of the best shows on television and maybe the most enjoyable and addictive.”
The Good Wife
“The Good Wife” is a legal and political drama series that aired on Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from September 2009. The show was created by Robert King and Michelle King, starring Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry, Archie Panjabi, etc. Entertainment Weekly called the series “one of the most inspired shows on television.”
The drama focuses on the wife of Cook County State’s Attorney, Alicia Florrick. She returns to her career in law after her husband’s involvement in the events of political corruption and a humiliating public sex scandal. She starts working as a litigator in Stern, Lockhart & Gardner an extremely prestigious law firm to fend for her family. The show focused on various plot arcs and highlighted the character development that played out over multiple episodes. The drama is popularly recognized due to the presence of fresh storylines and dynamic character development. All the characters, including the background characters, are meticulously written with an exceptional portrayal of courtroom scenes.
The Night Of
“The Night Of” is a 2016 eight-part American crime drama television miniseries. The miniseries was written by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian and was directed by Steven Zaillian and James March. The show received critical acclaim globally. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently contains a score of 95%. It is a must-watch legal drama for all the budding lawyers as it highlights the intricacies of the criminal justice system.
The show starred Riz Ahmed, a college student as Nasir Khan, who decided to give a lift to a mysterious woman in his cab and take her to a party hosted by his friend. However, the next morning he wakes up to find that he has been charged with murder when that woman was found dead, and he struggles to prove his innocence. The drama is a realistic portrayal of the criminal justice system and depicts the negative side of the American legal system. It is based on the pursuit of truth and, at the same time, features how human and conventional flaws hinder us from knowing the truth. The show is richly crafted, and the gripping plotline keeps the viewers on edge throughout.
David E. Kelly created the American legal drama “The Practice.” The show focuses on partners and associates at a Boston Law Firm. It aired on television in 1997 and ran for eight seasons starring Dylan McDermot, LisaGay Hamilton, Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim, Kelli Williams, Michael Badalucco, etc.
Bonny Donnell was a handsome, sharp-witted defence attorney who surrounded himself with talented attorneys and associates at the self-named firm “Robert Donnell and Associates.” The storyline depicted recurring conflicts between personal morality and legal ethics while defending murderers, rapists, etc. The presence of the light comedy in the drama romanticized treatment of the American legal system and legal proceedings.
“For Life” is a fictional legal and family drama series. The series was created by Hank Steinberg and premiered on ABC in February 2020. The story is loosely based on the true story of Issac Wright Jr., who was imprisoned for an offence that he did not commit. During his imprisonment, he worked as a paralegal and helped overturn the wrongful convictions of his fellow inmates, before finally proving his innocence before the court.
Nicholas Pinnock plays the central character, Aaron Wallace, who was convicted and imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. While incarcerated, he worked as a lawyer litigating cases and fought to overturn the wrongful convictions of his fellow inmates. At the same time, Aaron Wallace also strived to prove his innocence before the court. His struggle for freedom is highly driven by his desperate will to return to his family which he loves and to retain the life which was stolen from him. The show throws light on the flaws and challenges of the United States penal and legal system. The gripping and compelling storyline helped the audience to connect with the characters, and to grasp the struggle for freedom of the principal role.
The People v. O. J. Simpson
“The People v. O. J. Simpson” is an American crime legal drama. The story revolves around the O.J. Simpson murder case, and it is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson”. The show is created by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski; and stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, David Schwimmer, etc.
The story of the television series features the infamous O.J. Simpson murder case and depicts the riveting trial scene. The first episode of the drama shows the investigators visiting O. J. Simpson after the bodies of Nichole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were discovered. The authorities suspect O.J. Simpson behind the gruesome murder, and prosecutor Marcia Clark takes the case.
The show is communicated to the viewers from the perspective of a lawyer. It explores the chaotic behind the scenes dealings and complexities on both sides of the O.J. Simpson trial. It made a massive impact as a miniseries and received several awards for the exemplary performance of the cast and accurate portrayal of the characters.
Binge-watching the above mentioned legal dramas would be one of the best things to do right now while we are stuck at home. Not only are the mentioned series, are entertaining but they also serve the educational purpose for young aspiring lawyers. All the shows have highlighted the intricacies of the legal profession and also portrayed how interesting and invigorating this profession could be.
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