Picket Fences

Picket Fences

1992 - United States

Described as an 'anti-Twin Peaks', Picket Fences is a family drama set in the small humdrum town of Rome, Wisconsin, where everyone knows everyone and the weird and not-always-so-wonderful, are everyday occurrences.

Central to the core cast of characters are the Brock family - Jimmy Brock (Tom Skerritt) is the town's sheriff, his wife, Jill (Kathy Baker) is a physician who is employed at the local hospital, Kimberly (Holly Marie Combs), is the daughter from Jimmy's first marriage, and they have two sons, the sensitive young Zachary (Adam Wylie) and the borderline juvenile delinquent Matthew (Justin Shenkarow).

Picket Fences

Sheriff Brock, accompanied by his over enthusiastic deputies Kenny (Costas Mandylor) and Maxine (Lauren Holly), grapples with maintaining order in the face of bizarre crimes and peculiar incidents. These include cow udders spontaneously exploding, a student revealing a severed hand during show-and-tell at school, and a grim history of town mayors meeting tragic fates. Not all the regular characters survived the goings on in Rome. Busybody Police dispatcher Ginny Weedon (Zelda Rubinstein) left to spend the rest of her life in the lap of comfortable retirement but after doing so was found frozen solid in her own freezer chest during a spate of ‘freezer murders’. The most recent mayor is for a while the chief suspect for these crimes - but he eventually meets a chilling end himself.

Audiences teetered on the edge, uncertain whether they were about to embark on a whimsical comedy or plunge into the depths of a gripping dark drama. Despite critical acclaim—attributed to intricate and unpredictable plotlines—the show failed to capture the anticipated prime-time viewership. Nevertheless, spanning from 1992 to 1996, it clinched 14 Primetime Emmy Awards and has since ascended to the revered status of a cult classic.

Picket Fences delved into daring territory, tackling subjects that occasionally unsettled viewers. During that era, television dramas rarely broached topics like abortion, homophobia, date rape, LGBT adoption, religious dilemmas, and even—brace yourself—spontaneous human combustion. The latter would have felt right at home in an episode of X-Files. Interestingly, the creators of both shows—Chris Carter for the X-Files and David E. Kelley for Picket Fences—toyed with the idea of a crossover story. Imagine Mulder and Scully venturing to Rome, Wisconsin for an X-Files episode! However, since the two series aired on different networks, CBS and Fox never gave the green light to this intriguing concept. Despite both shows featuring cow-related storylines—Red Museum in X-Files and Away in the Manger in Picket Fences—every reference to the latter was meticulously purged from the X-Files episode.

Picket Fences

Carter Pike (Kelly Connell), the County Medical Examiner, collaborates with the Sheriff’s Department to crack down on the town’s most violent crimes. However, in Rome, he’s often the subject of ridicule. The townsfolk don’t take him seriously, despite his expertise—perhaps because he’s a tad peculiar. Enter Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel), the bombastic local lawyer. He fearlessly represents anyone, regardless of how reprehensible their crime, much to the chagrin of Judge Henry Bone (Ray Walston - My Favourite Martian), whose rulings often align more with his moral compass than strict legal points. Bone’s decisions are rarely overturned. His signature closing line? “Now get out!” Amidst the revolving door of prosecutors, Don Cheadle joins the cast as John Littleton, perpetually incredulous at the Sheriff’s Department’s sometimes absurd actions and the sheer madness of the cases they face.

Picket Fences remains a standout television series for its mix of high drama and quirkiness, as well as its bold approach to addressing daring subjects that pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on network television. The show's mix of heartwarming moments and shocking twists kept its viewers on the edge of their seats, while its witty dialogue and clever storytelling endeared it to fans of all ages. It was a true gem of 90s television, blending drama, humour, and social commentary in a way that was both entertaining and thought-provoking, leaving a lasting impact on viewers and cementing its legacy as a one-of-a-kind show that dared to be different.

Published on April 27th, 2024. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.

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