Picket Fences is a TV drama set in the small fictional town of Rome, Wisconsin, centered around Sheriff Jimmy Brock, his wife and town doctor Jill, and their three children. When family emergencies such as bed wetting, bullying and teen sex aren’t playing out there’s a bunch of bizarre crimes of some sort. From serial bathers, midgets riding on elephants to serial killers called “The Green Bay Chopper” and “Cupid”. Another element of the show is the ethical/political/philosophical quandaries presented in the courtroom. It’s unique how it blends police drama, medical drama and legal drama into one show.
Let’s get the Twin Peaks comparisons out of the way. It’s clearly inspired by Twin Peaks. It references the show many times and even to an extent Northern Exposure as well (Cicely Alaska/Rome Wisconsin), also the philosophical debates remind one of Chris in the Morning‘s spiels). Like Twin Peaks the first episode is centered around a murder. While Northern Exposure‘s first few episodes are filled with TP references and similarities it carved out its own identity and maybe it’s because I have only watched one season but Picket Fences never really has a strong and unique identity. It kinda feels like a mishmash of Step-By-Step, some cop/legal drama and Twin Peaks.
Although known for “quirkiness”, it’s not in the same way as Twin Peaks, it’s more of a wholesome quirkiness. Sure strange events happen, but it all comes off so light-heartedly. Twin Peaks is wholesome too, but it is extremely dark, and even though Picket Fences tackles issues such as incest, child sexuality, serial killers etc, it’s just so damn quaint.
But the main weakness of the show is that there’s not many interesting characters, just interesting stories. This might be due to its episodic nature but none of the characters grew on me. By far my favourite would be the cavalier lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) who is hilarious and takes on the role of lawyer for local criminals and those on trial. He remarks of a statutory rape case: “I’m very good with penile cases. My brother-in-law is a moyle. He makes circumcisions. He has malpractice insurance. He has a two inch deductible.” Kathy Baker was brilliant in her role but her character was a little too moralistic. A credit to the show is that virtually every character is flawed and they explore those flaws so just when you think “ughh who is that tender and wonderful in real life” things get a little bit real again.
The show deals with a lot of polemical issues HIV, incest, polygamy, abortion, fetal transplants, teenage sex and other such taboo issues that would rarely be touched on in TV today. The show has children discussing and addressing sexuality and saying things that today would have raised alarms, makes me sad that we live in such a frightened climate. This is one of the stronger elements of the show as the topical events it portray affect everyone from those in uniform to their families and the greater community. The show also forces the viewer to consider their values and subject matter they may not be so familiar with which is a pretty clever thing for a mainstream show to get away with.
The show is worth watching but it’s not a show that I can be fanatical about. I watch Twin Peaks at least 3-4 times a year, I own the Twin Peaks board game which no one will play with me because it goes on forever. And I LOVE making cherry pie. Perhaps I came into the show looking for the wrong things, above all it’s a good study of family life in a small town, people navigating life with all its ups and downs.
If Twin Peaks wasn’t your type of show then you’ll probably love this show and if you were a fan of it back in the day you’ll be wanting to make sure you pick up a copy . Awesome to see some older shows not being forgotten about. I will be checking out the rest of the seasons as they get released as I have read a lot of online comments that the show comes into its own during the second season. Worth checking out if you’ve never seen it before.
A 14 minute featurette called ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’ with interviews David E. Kelley, Kathy Baker, Tom Skerrit, Holy Marie Combs, Lauren Holly, Fyvush Finkel, etc, interspersed with clips from the show.
Picket Fences Season One is a 22 episode six-disc box-set with a run-time for 1055 minutes. Recommended.
Picket Fences [Season One] is available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.