Law & Order was a show that ran for 20 seasons, from 1990 until 2010, when it finally ended. It was one of the shows my wife and I used to watch regularly together back in the day. We enjoyed it, and were sad to see it end, though it was very formulaic and followed a seeming set of rules that were rarely violated which often pointed to the answer of every episode.
The pattern of the show was almost always a pre-credits sequence where the crime was committed/discovered, with the police detectives showing up and examining the scene of the crime, something that always ended with a quip from the senior detective on the show, which for many years was the late Jerry Orbach.
Then the show would run the opening credits, after which would come the investigation stage of the hour long drama… the “law” in the title… followed by the district attorney’s office prosecuting the person tracked down by the detectives… which I guess is the “order” part.
There were occasional variations or switch ups… sometimes the first person arraigned wasn’t the perpetrator, and sometimes the perp got a not guilty verdict… but it was a solid formula that spawned a whole franchise, including adaptations in France and the UK.
But the original, with its “bum bum” or “chung chung” musical notes that were a hallmark of the show, went away even as other variations carried on… or died quick deaths, like Law & Order LA.
Now, however, the original is back. It even has some of the original cast, including Sam Waterston as District Attorney Jack McCoy, still on the job after all of these years, and Anthony Anderson as Detective Bernard, still working as a detective in homicide.
Stephen Hill, who was District Attorney Adam Schiff for the first decade of the series, seemed like an old guy when he was playing the part, but Sam Waterston is now older than Stephen Hill ever was on the show. Meanwhile, Anthony Anderson spent a most of a decade starring in the sitcom Black-ish.
The rest of the cast has been filled in by newcomers, with Jeffrey Donovan of Burn Notice fame taking on the role as Bernard’s partner in homicide, Camryn Manheim as their Lieutenant, Hugh Dancy as the assistant DA on the “order” side of the fence, working with Odelya Halevi working as his assistant on cases.
So all the roles are filled and I am fine with all the choices, save for perhaps Hugh Dancy, who comes off as a bit of a dandy at times… though that probably fits his character, so is a minor gripe.
And all the elements of the show are in place, just like the good old days. The pre-credits scene, the opening music with and updated credit sequence, the story flow, it is all there.
But it all feels a little wooden… a little too unsubtle… a little too much like it is trying to make a point and afraid somebody might not get it unless the telegraph it with a big red marker.
Not that the original series was a master class in subtlety. You knew the pattern. You could often spot the killer because they most recognizable guest star wouldn’t be wasted on a subsidiary role.
Here though, every character seems to have an assigned role/point of view they are scripted in every episode to express.
Jeffrey Donovan… who I fear will never have another role as good as Burn Notice… is the brusque, cranky old white guy who must voice the politically incorrect opinion.
Anthony Anderson is the tired of it all black man who has to speak about the way minorities are treated in the US.
Hugh Dancy is the ADA who wants to win his case more than he wants justice, while Odelya Halevi has to be his conscious about right and wrong.
And I am not complaining about the show suddenly being too woke of socially aware… the old episodes could manage that now and then… as much as how the characters are so predictable that you know when they are going to go into those defined roles before they even start speaking. Even the actors seem to realize they are checking a box as their delivery tends to go a bit flat when they are required to step up and fill those roles.
The actors in question… especially Jeffrey Donovan and Anthony Anderson… are capable of much better performances, so it really makes me wonder what is going on. What kind of direction are they getting?
The season does get better as it goes along, and the whole thing has been renewed for another season, so it passed muster better than Law & Order: LA did, but it doesn’t have quite the same spark that the show did back in the day.
Then again, a lot has changed since the original went off the air in 2010. Maybe it is more a sign of the changing times, the way Dragnet became something of a parody of itself as the series wound down in the late 60s.