For the past year or so, I’ve been regularly looking through the TV Guide covers archive to so that I could share images of covers featuring mystery series to my Facebook page. A few weeks ago, I happened upon a cover from the 70s featuring the actor Barry Newman as ‘Petrocelli’. I had never heard of the show before (–the 70s were admittedly before my time). So I decided to look it up and see if I could find a few episodes to watch. My thoughts below are based on having watched the pilot movie plus about nine episodes from the first season.

First, some facts about the show. Petrocelli was an American show that ran for two seasons from 1974 until 1976. It was a typical episodic whodunnit, which each episode focusing on a different crime. In total, 45 episodes were made and they were preceded by a TV movie pilot that aired earlier in 1974. Apparently, the last four episodes of the show were never aired after it got cancelled. The show and pilot were actually based on a 1970 movie titled The Lawyer and was loosely based on a true story.

The title character, Anthony Petrocelli, is a Harvard Law graduate who moves to an Arizona town called San Remo and sets up a law practice there as a defense attorney. He is assisted at his office by his wife, and occasionally hires a local named Pete Ritter to investigate some of his cases. The pervading theme is that a lot of his clients don’t have much money to pay him, but he takes on their cases anyway because that’s just the kind of good guy he is. He also goes around correcting people’s pronunciation of his name (That’s “chelli”), and tries various schemes to avoid paying for parking.

A big part of the show is it’s use of “flashbacks”, and throughout each episode you can expect to see the events leading up to the crime re-enacted through multiple points of view:

  1. We see what happened according to a major witness
  2. We see what happened according to the accused
  3. We see what happened according to what the prosecutor thinks
  4. We see what could have happened according to Petrocelli

That last point is Petrocelli’s major tool as a defense attorney–to sow “reasonable doubt” in the jury’s mind about the alleged events. Usually, Petrocelli’s version points the blame at a different suspect. But while the episode ends with his client being pronounced not guilty, there’s often no concrete admission that the other suspect actually did it.

I really like this show and there’s definitely something about it that keeps me coming back for more. I think a big part of it is the depiction of his relationship with his wife. They’re living in a trailer in the desert while Petrocelli spends his free time trying to build their house brick by brick. Although they’re still bound by traditional 70s gender roles, they seem like there have more mutual respect for one another that I’ve seen in other 70s shows (McMillan & Wife being one of them).

Where to watch Petrocelli

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