Apr 5, 2013
You could not make “Adam-12” today. This 1960s TV series’ puppy-dog enthusiasm for the supposed moral purity of the Los Angeles Police Department is laugh-out-loud funny. On the other hand, those old episodes with Reed and Malloy viewing L.A. (mostly North Hollywood, actually) through the windows of a black-and-white Plymouth Belvedere often featured tight storytelling drawn from real case files of the LAPD.
I do mean laugh-out-loud funny: Watching the goofy performances of Martin Milner and Kent McCord in the pilot episode, you’d think they’d planned to do a comedy. But both actors grew into the roles, the acting improved, so did the writing, and the program didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the subject at hand — police corruption and excessive force, for example.
Most cop shows since then — the good ones, anyway — have tended to focus on detectives, not beat cops. “Adam-12” was anchored solidly in that patrol car, and was so finicky about getting procedural details right (the LAPD reportedly has incorporated some episodes into its training) that one can temporarily excuse the public relations sensibility that was a product of both the time and creator Jack Webb’s limited perspective. It’s a fascinating TV artifact.
“Adam-12” (1968) Created by Jack Webb. Starring Martin Milner as Officer Pete Malloy and Kent McCord as Officer James Reed. 324 minutes. Unrated.
You’ll have to either suspend disbelief or be willing to accept that the plot is completely implausible, but if you do, you’ll enjoy Brad Meltzer’s novel, “Dead Even.”
The writing is good, mostly. Meltzer is at his best describing New York City, its crowded sidewalks and hardened, look-the-other-way attitudes. He also paints an informative picture of the workings of high-octane law firms and the pressurized public prosecutor’s offices.
The book centers a very-much-in-love pair of attorneys. The husband, Jared, is a by-the-book almost-partner in a big firm that practices both corporate law and criminal defense. The wife, Sarah Tate, is the more aggressive of the two, willing to take chances and speak up for herself — which is why she was kicked off the partner track at her firm and fired six months earlier.
As “Dead Even” opens, Sarah starts a new job as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Eager to prove her worth and thereby keep her job in the era of budget cuts, she grabs the first case she comes across.
Unfortunately, it’s a case earmarked for the office hotshot. She’d be wise to hand it over to him, since he has more experience and lots more clout, but keeps it, aiming to prove herself.
Sarah’s case seems cut-and-dried at first — a simple burglary. But it turns out to be much more complicated. And dangerous.
Here’s where the implausible parts start: Jared is hired as the defense attorney and, because of a sinister twist, he keeps the case, preparing to go head-to-head with his ambitious wife in the courtroom. Issues of trust arise; childhood trauma is dredged up, along with the possibility of marital infidelity. Things get mysterious.
And soon the plot has more turns than the pretzels sold by street vendors outside the DA’s office.
My advice: Focus on Meltzer’s descriptions of those pretzels and other details of New York life; focus on Metzler’s characterizations, including Jared and Sarah, Sarah’s assistant and the prosecutor who generously becomes her mentor. (On whom do you think this guy is based? The author, perhaps?)
Don’t worry about the “why” in this novel; just enjoy it.
“Dead Even,” Brad Meltzer, 1999, Grand Central Publishing.
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