JAG: Season Eight
Historically military based television series never seem to garner the all encompassing sweep of the networks that other genres have managed. There have been times that every network had at least one medical show or legal based drama but series concerning the men and women that serve in the armed forces haven’t been able to compete in the same fashion. Added to this is the simple fact that most TV series with a military slant have been sit-coms. Sure there where shows like ‘Combat’ or ‘Twelve O’clock High’ but most people remember ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ or ‘M*A*S*H’. One man has set himself apart from the pack of television series creators by introducing strong military connections in most of his show no matter what he basic genre may be. This man is Donald P. Bellisario. He served in the United States Marines and infused almost all of the many successful series he created with that experience. Sometimes the use of military personnel is subtle such as in ‘Quantum Leap’ or ‘Magnum P.I’ main characters are veterans of either the Navy or the Marines. It was only a matter of time until Bellisario came up with a series that is directly dealt with characters on active duty in the service. The show is ‘JAG: Judge Advocate General’. The function of this area of the service perfectly allows for the infusion of one of the most popular and enduring genres on television; lawyers. JAG is the part of every branch of the service that handles judicial infractions committed by or against military personal.
When you think about it the concept is amazingly robust. Normal crimes long used on TV like murder, theft and rape are present. The stories can also go beyond this scope to involve topics such as national security and dereliction of duty. The major difference is the crimes are defined by an alternate code: the Uniform Code of Military Conduct. The differences between the code and the civilian penal code are enough to keep the stories fresh even for the most jaded fan of courtroom drama. For one thing that whole innocent until proven guilty thing is altered. The burden is on the defendant to exonerate himself from the charges. This puts a great stress on his attorney since they have to be far more proactive in their defense. Another major difference here is that both the prosecutor and defense attorneys are assigned by JAG. This gives a far greater range for the leading characters. One episode they may be working for the prosecution the next they are defending someone. Friends have to work on opposite sides as well as together. CBS Paramount has been steadily releasing this series to DVD over the past few years. The series ran for ten seasons starting in 1995 and they are currently nearing the end of the run with season eight on DVD.
When a series last for a decade it is only natural that the writers have to make some changes to accommodate shifts in the concerns of our society. The series spanned a crucial time in our history. In the previous season the series had to change to reflect life in a post 9-11 world. In this season the United States was already engaged in combat in Afghanistan and fighting the terrorist group Al Queda. The shift from a peacetime navy to one engaged in active combat provided an entirely new dimension to the stories. The crimes of a civilian based law series seem to pale in comparison to the drama afforded by crimes committed in a war zone. During the time period covered by this season, 2002, there was a swell of patriotism in the country that helped the show achieve a large and faithful audience. The series was produced in close cooperation with the Department of the Navy and almost every episode featured clips of the real people and ships on active duty.
The main character of the series was Commander Harmon 'Harm' Rabb, Jr., USN (JAGC) aptly portrayed by David James Elliott. According to the storyline presented in previous seasons Harm started out his Navy career as a fighter pilot. Due to a case of night blindness, later corrected, he lost his flight status and went to law school and was assigned to JAG as a senior officer. He is a dedicated officer who gives his all no to the pursuit of justice no matter which side he is assigned. In this season Harm finds himself in a seat in the courtroom that he was unaccustomed to, defendant. He is accused of murdering Lieutenant Loren Singer (Nanci Chambers) and has to be defended by Lieutenant Commander Faith Coleman (Alicia Coppola). The investigation of the crime was assigned to agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service or NCIS. This would serve as the pilot for the highly successful spin off series ‘NCIS’, also created and produced by Bellisario. All of the evidence pointed to Harm as the culprit but thanks to the diligence of NCIS Harm is cleared of all charges. Harm’s best friend and co-worker at JAG is Lieutenant Colonel Sarah "Mac" MacKenzie, USMC (JAGC) (Catherine Bell). There has always been some romantic sparks between the two but to their credit the writers never took the matter too far allowing for the sexual tension to simmer nicely. Frequently Harm and Mac would find themselves on the opposite side of a case leading to an adversarial aspect to their relationship. The man in charge of JAG is Rear Admiral Albert Jethro 'A.J.' Chegwidden, USN (JAGC) (John M. Jackson). He is tough but fair and is dedicated to backing his staff at all times. One of the junior officers is Lieutenant Commander Bud Roberts Jr., USN (JAGC) (Patrick Labyorteaux). He is hard working and ready for any assignment. Bud is also married to another JAG officer Lieutenant Harriet Sims, USN (Karri Turner). It does seem that she is on maternity leave a lot. At the end of the previous season Bud was gravely injured when his leg was blown off by a land mine in Afghanistan. He was trying to save a young boy at the time. This opened a dramatic story arc as Bud tried to recover from the loss of his leg and fight to remain on active duty and stay in JAG.
As with any legal shows the topics here are ‘ripped from the headlines’ or are concerned with topics prevalent in the news. One episode had a female officer accused of sexual harassment. In another the most frequent crime in a courtroom series takes a novel twist; murder. In this case the sergeant accused of killing his wife claims self defense but the only one that came substantiate things is the son and the accused refuses to let him testify. Another advantage of having the navy as the basis for the action is the setting of the stories can be global. Many episodes are set in remote locations giving an international flair to the series. This is just good old fashion fun to watch. There is a well balanced blend of the crime of the week with story arcs that span the season and the entire series. If you aren’t a fan yet pick this set up and become one.