Turn Back The Clock
Law & Order
Aired on: NBC
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I’ve watched a lot of television series in my lifetime, but there is one dramatic television series that I can’t seem to get enough of: Law & Order. I’m addicted to Law & Order. Not the spinoffs like SVU, although I do enjoy that series, not Law & Order: Criminal Intent or Law & Order: LA, but the original series. I watched each episode when it originally aired and have been watching it in syndication ever since, catching it whenever I can.
Law & Order began in 1990 and was incredibly unique. As the opening credits narrator states, “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are there stories.” The show opens with a crime, investigated by members of the New York City Police Department. Midway into the show, the case is taken over by the District Attorney’s office and we get to see the offender on trial. That was one of the things that attracted me to the show. I loved the balance shown between the police work and the prosecution.
I enjoyed the fact that the creators of the show focused more on the cases and less on the private lives of the cops and prosecutors. We did get to learn snippets about the main character’s lives, but only when the characters’ private lives were pertinent to the case they were investigating and/or prosecuting. I also love that the cases were “ripped from the headlines.” In other words, the story surrounding the case would be based on a real case in the news, but the surrounding investigation and court outcome would be completely left up to the writers. This meant that the viewer might know something about the case the episode was based on, but would never be able to predict the episode’s outcome.
The twists and turns in each case, the personal flare that the cops and prosecutors sometimes added to the cases and the believability of the actors were what made the show so interesting. The fact that the bad guys didn’t always get caught/punished made the show that much more enjoyable as it reflected what happens in real life.
Law & Order lasted twenty seasons and over the years various actors starred in the police and prosecutors roles. Some stood out more than others. Dan Florek started out as the Captain, but the most enjoyable person in that "boss" role…and the one that lasted the longest was S. Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Anita Van Buren. There was something about that tough gal, no nonsense attitude that hid a softer side we all new was there that endeared the character of Lt. Can Buren to the Law & Order audience. Then there was District Attorney Adam Schiff as portrayed by Steven Hill. The crotchety, seen-it-all District Attorney who wasn't afraid to hand his underlings their heads if he thought they were mishandling a case. For some reason, I enjoyed his role better than any of the District Attorneys who took their place.
There were only three Executive District Attorneys in the series' twenty year run. Most forget Michael Moriarity's run as Ben Stone, because Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy was a cornerstone of the show from the fourth season all the way to the end (the final two years saw McCoy being promoted to the job of District Attorney). With Jack McCoy, you could have a love/hate relationship depending on his attitude during a case. His sometimes sanctimonious attitude when trying to get the "right" person locked up would put the viewers off at times, but for the most part, we applauded his ideals when it came to justice. But Jack McCoy wasn't without flaws and we learned those over the years, from the drinking to the carousing and sometimes narrow mindedness when it came to certain aspects of the law. Waterston played the roll with conviction and one could actually believe that Sam Waterston was the Executive ADA. His successor, Michael Cutter (Linus Roache), just wasn't as likeable and I longed for the moments when we would see his boss, McCoy, enter the room.
The show went through a number of detectives, but Lenny Briscoe, as portrayed by Jerry Orbach, was my absolute favorite. Lasting twelve years on the series, the character could have toughed it out until the end had Orbach not succumbed to prostate cancer in 2004, six years before the show officially ended (officially Orbach had announced he was leaving that year for a Law & Order spinoff, but only completed two episodes of Trial by Jury before his death). Briscoe's draw was his tough character despite the grandfatherly looks and his pure New York attitude. This was a character with flaws - alcoholism, two failed marriages and dysfunctional family issues - but one who believed in and was dedicated to doing his job and putting away the criminals, something that appealed to everyone watching. When he died, he was sincerely missed by all. Other honorable mentions included Chris Noth as the volatile Detective Mike Logan, Benjamin Bratt as the young Detective Rey Curtis with the complicated home life, the incredibly charismatic Jessie L. Martin as the likeable Detective Ed Green, Dennis Farina as Detective Joe Fontana (surprisingly, since I have never been a big fan of this actor's work) and Jeremy Sisto as the serious Detective Cyrus Lupo. None of the other actors in the detective roles ever seemed to truly fit.
As for the Assistant District Attorneys, the show started off with a male in that role (Richard Brooks as Paul Robinette), but soon began relying on female characters to fill that role. Of course, that made Jack McCoy a happy man, having a woman assistant at his beck and call at all hours...and I do mean all hours. My favorites of the bunch were Jill Hennessy as the young, dedicated and scrupulous Claire Kincaid and Angie Harmon as the outspoken Abbie Carmichael.
Law & Order was one of those staples of primetime dramas that will be sincerely missed. None of the spinoffs, with the exception of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, ever really held my interest. And even SVU is a bit different, featuring more about the police side of things than the prosecution side and more about the personal lives of the characters. None of the other Law & Order spinoffs ever held a candle to the beloved original. Law & Order is like that old friend that you just can't wait to see. You might not have seen them in a while, but once you are reunited, it's just like old times. You enjoy reliving the old days with them and wish they could stick around a while. But, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end. Fortunately for me, Law & Order is heavily syndicated, meaning I can catch episodes whenever I feel the urge.