Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Five Best Episodes of "The Defenders" (Season 1)

Robert Reed and E.G. Marshall.
The Defenders is frequently listed as one of the finest television dramas of the 1960s. The series' first season, released on DVD last summer by Shout Factory, confirms that its reputation is for real. There's not a lemon among the 32 episodes. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed play father-and-son attorneys in New York City who take on cases ranging from murder to illegal abortion to sports gambling. One can only hope that Shout Factory releases the remaining seasons of this classic legal series. As for the marvelous first season, it was difficult to pick the five best episodes, but we finally decided on the following:

E.G. Marshall and Fritz Weaver.
1. "The Riot" - When a riot ensues at Stony Point Prison and hostages are taken, the convicts will negotiate only with Lawrence Preston (E.G. Marshall). It turns out that Lawrence defended one of the convict leaders, who still holds the attorney in high esteem. The first of several episodes to features a "trial" outside the courtroom, this gripping drama is a showcase for Marshall--just watch his face as his character tries to figure out a peaceful resolution to a potentially deadly situation. The strong supporting cast includes Fritz Weaver, Frank Sutton, and Ossie Davis.

Jack Klugman as the D.A.
2. "The Search" - A man confesses to a murder long after one of Lawrence's clients was convicted and executed for the same crime. Burdened with guilt and questions, Lawrence and the district attorney who prosecuted the case (Jack Klugman) search for clues they may have missed during the trial. This fascinating episode boasts a strong narrative, but also serves as a portrait of two men whose passion for justice drives everything they do. This was the second of Klugman's appearances as the D.A. He also guest-starred in a fourth season episode as another character--and won an Emmy.

E.G. Marshall as Lawrence Preston.
3. "The Best Defense" - An alcoholic, former colleague asks for Lawrence's help in defending a notorious racketeer accused of murder. When Lawrence declines, his friend then reminds Lawrence of his own words: Everyone, no matter who they are, deserves the best defense available. This engrossing episode explores the ethics of the law and features one of many lively legal discussions between father and son. It also boasts a clever twist at the climax, a rarity for a series that avoided last minute courtroom revelations.

Robert Reed as Kenneth Preston.
4. "The Accident" - Kenneth Preston becomes emotionally invested in a case in which a boy's parents refuse to approve surgery on their son on the grounds of their religious beliefs. As the boy's chances for survival dwindle, Kenneth desperately tries to find a legal means to save the child's life. Complicating the situation: It's a weekend night and he can't find a judge. Lawrence Preston is the lead counsel on most of the season one episodes, but this one is all about Kenneth and Robert Reed proves up to the task. The subject is a popular one for legal dramas, but you won't find it handled any better.

5. "The Tarnished Cross" - Lawrence and Kenneth happen on a kangaroo court being administered by a youth club. But this is no game--the defendant is being tried by his peers for murder and they plan to sentence him to death if he's found guilty. Another stellar episode with a trial outside the courtroom, this one is buoyed by excellent performances from the young guest stars, particularly Martin Sheen and Ken Kercheval (Cliff on Dallas).

Honorable Mention:  "The Benefactor" - Many television legal dramas have dealt with abortion, but I can't think of one that did it any better.


  1. Great post! I also thought "The Point Shaver" and "The Trial of Jenny Scott" were outstanding, but as you wrote the level of excellence is consistently high. I really hope Shout will bring us the rest of this series.

    1. There were fine episodes, too. I encourage readers to check out David's review of THE DEFENDERS at his great classic television blog Comfort TV:

  2. I am thrilled to see you support "The Defenders"! I just discovered this remarkable series this year. The writing is compelling, the plots thought provoking, and the performances excellent. I was particularly impressed with the relationship between E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed. If you haven't seen "The Defenders" you need to place it on your must see list.