I agree with most of what Noel Murray writes in his review of season 1 of The Paper Chase. (The season also has some episodes with out-of-synch sound — including one where the words aren’t within a mile of the actors’ lips — but there’s an exchange program for that.) I wouldn’t really claim TPS and Lou Grant as innovators or trailblazers; the “issue-oriented” filmed drama was all over TV in the ’60s, and merely returned in the late ’70s after taking some time off. The late ’70s shows are important because, in a halting, fumbling way, they made some attempt to combine issues with the kind of character-based stories usually seen on half-hour shows like M*A*S*H or All in the Family. Which eventually led to the more complex and satisfying TV dramas of the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. But though The Paper Chase had some fine episodes, many of them written by the author of the original novel, it’s still basically a ’70s formula drama with strictly self-contained episodes and stories that tend to revolve around guest characters; compare it to M*A*S*H, another movie adaptation from the same studio, and you see why most of what we now think of as “drama” was actually being done in half-hours at the time.
One thing I was appalled by, though, was the theme song. It was “The First Years,” written by the ubiquitous team of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel and performed by Seals and Crofts, a popular soft-rock team performing one of Fox’s trademark out-of-time arrangements: the melody, orchestrations and harmonies sound like they would be inoffensive and bland in any decade. I know a lot of people like this song, but I really, really dislike it; the bland sound, the generic Fox music and syrupy lyrics about “Good friends to love us” are more appropriate for Saved By the Bell than Professor Kingsfield’s class. When Houseman stops talking and the theme song kicks in, it’s like someone’s actually written a song that illustrates the results of having “a skull full of mush.”
When they brought this show back on cable, they dropped the lyrics and did it as an instrumental; still not a good song, but at least Charles Fox’s stultifying vocal arrangements aren’t involved:
That’s a personal reaction, of course. But what are some shows you like that have theme songs you don’t like?