Evolution of Law & Order

Law & Order is showcasing it’s 20th season this year.  That’s quite an accomplishment.  It doesn’t make it the longest running series (still behind Gunsmoke and The Simpsons) but it’s still worthy of being celebrated.  Besides the original series, it has spawned approximately 3 spin offs (SVU, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury) and 2 other series within the universe (Homicide, Conviction).  Whether you are a Dick Wolf fan or not, he certainly has created a phenomenon in TV history.  Something that NBC right now, due to it’s issues with Leno leaving primetime, must rely on even more.

Last week L&O returned with an episode double header, “Steely Eyed Death” and “Boy on Fire.”  Both episodes were well done.  Between the 2 episodes, there was character development (Lupo), relationship bonding (Lupo and Bernard) and a guest star (Debra Winger) who, for once, wasn’t actually the killer or mastermind of the crime.  After watching the show for 20 years, I feel an episode is a success if I can at least be surprised by the plot 50% of the time.  The first episode actually was the stronger of the two, simply because it’s later focus shifted to Detective Lupo, his past dealing with horrific crimes and sharing the details to his partner Bernard.

Lately I’ve been catching the early episodes of TNT.  It’s still fun to watch.  There was a time I knew these pretty much by heart, I’d seen them so much.  The series was grittier then, having a documentary edge to it.  New York seemed like a colder, more dangerous place.  And the entire cast was made up of men who reacted to the cases in different ways.  Each episode was it’s own mini movie, and rarely did anything to carry over to the next episode.  You could pick the show up after having been gone for a long time and know exactly who was who, and what role they played on the show, even if a new actor had joined.

Obviously relationships weren’t happening between the characters.  We did have partnerships, specifically with the opening duo of Logan and Greevey (who then became Logan and Cerreta and finally settling on Logan and Briscoe for a while).  Logan and Greevey actually were very much like oil and water.  Logan was liberal, Greevey was conservative.  They argued over every case.  They butted heads and sometimes even went into screaming matches. However, they still respected each other, and when Greevey was shot in his own driveway, Logan went into a downward spiral.  After that, while Cerreta and Briscoe argued with the younger man, it was never to such extremes.  Not until Detective Curtis took Logan’s part and that head butting resumed.  Of course, that usually was because Curtis was “by the book” man, and never appreciated when Briscoe taking shortcuts around the law, even in mild ways.

Over 20 years we’ve had a lot of cops on this show.  Most of the time they stayed while others were gone rather quickly.  Now we have Detectives Lupo and Bernard.  Much was said about Anthony Anderson coming in after Jessie L. Martin, his most famous role was as the scared hacker in the first Transformers movie.  But I think he’s done excellent in the part, and while I did love Ed Green very much, I am really enjoying the partnership between Bernard and Lupo.  It’s reminding me way back of the first season.  They are extremes and always butt heads on the controversial cases.  They can say some rotten things to each other.  But when the chips are down, they are there for each other.

On the other side of the show is the DA’s office.  Michael Moriarty played Ben Stone for several years and I loved his character.  His first assistant was Robinette who was with him for 3 seasons.  In the fourth season the show realized there were females working out in the world so they replaced two characters with women.  Captain Cragen was replaced by Lt. Van Buren.  She of course will always be someone I adore (she actually shows up as the mother of a murdered baby in the first season).  But Robinette was replaced by Claire Kincaid.  She was green and actually messed up in her first case.  Stone could have fired her, she was expecting it, but he remembered that he too had made his own share of screw ups and knew she could be a real asset.

What I loved about Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) is she had a dry wit.   With the serious material we got day in and out on everything, it was nice to have moments of humor even if it was just for a line or two.  Sometimes it was at a suspect’s expense and other times we had her making fun of Jack McCoy and Adam Schiff.  I remember one moment where a case befell them about a fugitive from the 60s being found and tried for murdering a cop (even back then they were getting their episodes from headlines).  Kincaid could not understand why McCoy and Schiff were reluctant to follow through with the prosecution, that if this woman had done the act in the 50s, they wouldn’t blink twice.  McCoy’s argument was simply “It was the 60s” as if that explained it all.  Fairly soon, one of the men asked what their next step should be, and Claire answered that perhaps they should hold hands and sing a chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”  McCoy’s reaction was priceless.

Such a story does bring up the new DA to replace Stone after Moriarity left.  Sam Waterson didn’t just step into the role, he jumped with both feet.  At the time, I didn’t appreciate the characteristics of Jack McCoy or how his relationship with Claire did add new substance to the DA side of things.  Realizing as I watched that McCoy and Kincaid were obviously involved outside the office, I was annoyed because I couldn’t get past McCoy being known for getting involved with his assistants.  (I think Claire would make four).  I wanted more for her character then just to get involved in an office romance.  Of course, we saw very little of the relationship so it wasn’t that big of a concern.  They killed Claire off in a car crash and from there we got beautiful model after model after model after model.

Now Alana de la Garza as Connie.  It’s amazing how far the actress has come from four years ago.  Starting first as McCoy’s assistant, the actress seemed timid and was upstaged easily.  Now that time has past, and Connie’s working along side Michael Cutter who took over for McCoy when he got promoted to DA has been loads of fun.  They butt heads as much if not more then Bernard/Lupo and even Greevey/Logan.  But they also have a good partnership when working together and can make Jack proud most of the time.  I do want to ship them and my latest FF is about them, but I’m not enjoying L&O specifically for them.  I think everyone has gelled together in a way that makes it the strongest the show’s been in years.  Now the writers are feeling freer to implement personal stories lightly such as Van Buren’s cancer and the possible Connie/Mike relationship.  I look forward to watching this show every week now, when before I would watch if I remembered.  Hopefully the extra four episodes ordered for this season will continue to impress.

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4 thoughts on “Evolution of Law & Order

  1. Oh, how I wish I’d know the history of the show as well as you do. But you are right about something. For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched L&O, occasionally. While watching it I always felt bad for the first five minutes for having missed the previous three or four episodes. Then the episode was over and I forgot about it. Now though, those little threads that last a whole season are enough to make me remember. I don’t necessarily feel the controlling urge to watch, but I remember.

  2. It helps to remember when you can watch early seasons on a daily basis. I do admit though, I was a huge L&O fan, and became so when A&E started airing it in syndication 15 years ago. (Or so). I got so good at knowing those early episodes, I could usually tell within 5 minutes of a scene or less to know what was going on.

    Two jobs ago, we would take our lunch break right in the middle of one of those A&E repeats. My coworkers would turn it on, and wait for me to come in to “catch them up to speed” on where we were in the episode.

    But I never enjoyed it like I do now (obviously). Hopefully that feeling will last and not disappoint, in spite of my known curse.

  3. To say how far Alana has come kind of implies she wasn’t good before, which isn’t the case. She has made sloppy writing of other shows convincing in the past. And the writing on Law & Order has been elevated within the last few seasons. Any actors performance is contingent upon the material they are given. Look at Hale Berry. One year it’s “Monster’s Ball,” the next year it’s “Catwoman.” Charlize Theron, same thing. “Monster” one year. “Aeon Flux,” the next. Alana is no exception to this. She certainly has proven she has chops. But she’s had them quite awhile. I think Law & Order makes it even more difficult because the shows do not center around the characters, their evolution or digression. It simply is a plot-driven show. I commend all the actors for being able to convey their characters over such tightly spun plots. I do wish in the case of Alana, and S. Epatha Merkersen for that matter, that they would utilize the woman more.

  4. Thanks for posting Axel.

    I do think Alana seemed unsure in her first season. The writing can always hurt, but I had seen her at CSI Miami and nobody’s writing is as bad as that. It doesn’t mean I think she did a bad job. Just that I wasn’t really going to go out on a limb and like Connie until I saw more from her (the actress not the character), and that didn’t happen until fairly far into the season.

    I think Merkersen has gotten a lot of good stuff this season, more than we usually get. It’s really unusual to see any character in the home environment, and she’s played it aces this season.

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