Things are gearing up for the annual Rome Christmas pageant, but a local Rabbi sues on the grounds of separation of Church & State. Fyvush Finkel’s Douglas Wambaugh is Jewish, but he decides to argue on the side of Christmas; he confronts the Rabbi with the deathless line, “With Jews like you, who needs anti-semites?” You think the whole episode is going to be about the church and state issue, but that gets neatly wrapped up in about ten minutes and the episode takes a sharp turn: the beloved school teacher who’s directing the pageant and playing the Virgin Mary . . . used to be a man! Yes, it’s 1992 and Picket Fences is already tackling transsexuality as a hot button issue. The episode has a couple of logical lapses and the ending is annoyingly cheesy, but the show delves into the issues in a serious way. Tom Skerritt gets the chance to really push his character to some new and interesting places; lovable Sheriff Jimmy Brock, it turns out, is quite virulently bigoted on this issue. There’s a scene here of Jimmy and Jill arguing about it where Skerritt is incredibly good at making Jimmy absolutely infuriating and unlikable. Again, I really love that the show is willing to have recurring characters, even main characters, reveal incredibly unlikable traits. It’s realistic and challenging. And a note for Kelly Connell who gets to take his usually comical character in a surprisingly serious direction; Carter dated the teacher before anyone knew she was a transsexual and this causes a surprising amount of serious self-reflection on his part. It’s a really good episode, only somewhat damaged by a couple of annoying bits. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – always ahead of its time, Picket Fences takes on bigotry against transsexuals in this issue-driven episode that also explores the main characters in interesting ways. 3 ½ stars.