Sunday, 31 August 2014


Happily, although the series ended after a record-tying run of 20 seasons, there is always a Law & Order episode playing on television somewhere in the world. While watching one on Channel 5 last night, I started thinking about a dual conundrum in the opening credits, which reminded me of another one I've pondered for years. Since it was late, I thought I'd share these.

'In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups: the police, who investigate crimes, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders...."

Listening to the famous opening, it struck me perhaps for the first time that if there's anything Law & Order shows us, it's that the police and DAs are certainly NOT separate groups. They may not always work in concert, but they are joined at the legal hip. More importantly, however, DAs do NOT prosecute offenders: they prosecute the accused offenders. It's not as if everyone prosecuted over 19 seasons of L&O has been guilty as charged.

In the opening credits, the characters are divided into 'Law' (the police) and 'Order' (the DAs), but surely this is backwards. It is the police who protect order, while the attorneys enforce and play with the law, a concept which, if the show teaches us anything, has little to do with justice, criminal or otherwise. Somehow I doubt this matters to anyone but me.

I'd just picked up L&O in series 18 on Channel 5, and I was thinking that this grouping was as good as any I'd seen since the Jerry Orbach days. It was perfect for Sam Waterson to take the District Attorney's role when Fred Thompson left to return briefly to politics; Thompson never convinced as a New York politician, but then none of the successors have ever caught the nature of the role as well as Stephen Hill did. Linus Roache plays the ADA part somewhere between Michael Moriarty and Waterson, and Alana de la Garza is the best second chair since Jill Hennessy or Carey Lowell. Meanwhile, on the police side (Order, remember?) S. Epatha Merkerson was getting more space, which is good, and the chemistry between Jeese Martin's Green and Jeremy Sisto's Lupo recalls the days of Orbach with a number of partners.

Of course, I no sooner thought about this than I discovered the episode I was watching was the one where Martin leaves the show, written out and replaced by Anthony Anderson, who's going to have a hard time getting a balance with Sisto. Knowing the series has only two more seasons beyond this is not encouraging, especially as the 5 in Channel 5 seems to stand for 'get them five years after they run in America and only make them available for five days!'


rogueactuary said...

I preferred L&O: Criminal Intent (with Goren & Eames) with perhaps too much Goren and not enough Eames!
However as for L&O I regarded Briscoe & Green as the best although to my shame I actually thought Green and Fontana were very good. I vaguely remember seeing Chris Noth in the early ones and he reminded me of what a New York Cop should sound like on TV (I suspect the influence of Hill Street Blues even amongst those who have never watched it lingers and as I have never seen him in Sex and the City I have no prejudice). As for the Law side: I think Fred Dalton Thompson seems more DA-like as an authority like he does in Die Hard 2. I hope to see how bad L&O: Los Angeles turns out. For Dick Wolf fans, the royalties will keep coming if L&O: UK etc keep getting renewed.

Anonymous said...

The show lost its bearings when Dawn DeNoon got control of the writing, and the show went for tabloid sensationalism, rather than the solid proceduralism that was the hallmark of the show in the early years. And when we began seeing the suspects having scenes by themselves and plotting, it turned a good cop and lawyer show into a bunch of sensationalist potboilers. Dawn DeNoon was the death of what was good in Law & Order.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I also think the trend in US television ratings forced lots of change. For instance how many US crime procedurals featured cold cases (when Cold Case was popular). Also, there were once again more crime shows set in sunnier climates: California and in the case of CSI: Nevada and Miami. Finally the targeting of 18-35 year olds imples too many attractive people in such shows which already removes one sense of realism.

Michael Carlson said...

Those are solid comments. I noticed how series 18 seemed to reflect tabloid stories (not least Elliott Spitzer) but the political intrigue w McCoy was the kind of ongoing plot thread I enjoy.

Anonymous 2 made a good point about a. the sunny settings and b. the young attractive people (not that many of the L&O cast aren't attracive). I watched a few episodes of Dexter at my brother's (he's a big fan) and I was laughing at the flatness of the shots, almost like figures in 3D against a fake background, all over lit and in close up, and the total unreality of everyone included cops being so young & pretty....