Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Twelve more to go!

Law & Order Season 6 is being released on DVD December 2nd. I believe this includes the episode where Briscoe and Curtis drive around with a comically oversize TV aerial to triangulate a cell phone signal. And also "Aftershock," the bizarro installment where no crimes are solved and main characters are given histories and arcs.

For me, mid- to- late nineties "Law & Order" is the show at its creative zenith, with the absolute nadir being the the Arthur Branch years. Now it seems like it could be entering a new golden age: I like Batman's pop well enough, but Alana de la Garza is their secret acting weapon and the strongest ADA character ever. I also wish we'd had 1,000 episodes of the Lupo/Green team (two cool dudes out solving crimes, one of them owns a dog), although Hilarious Fatso from Transformers seems to be an okay replacement.


Ming Doyle said...

Even though I was only able to understand about 19 of the words in this post ("Batman"! I liked reading that word the best), I am always very happy to see that you've updated.

But I must ask, what is "DVD"?

Warhol Superstar said...

So....which season would you recommend to someone who's never really seen L & O ('someone' meaning me)? Is it possible to start w/, say, season 6....or is it the kind of show that you have to watch from the beginning?

---- E

bbird said...

No, you do not need to watch all 400 episodes in order. There are no subplots, and you only ever hear about the main characters' outside lives in throwaway dialogue. Which sounds like I've described the most boring show ever, but it's actually why it's remained interesting. Each episodes is almost entirely self-contained, and is evenly split between a police investigation ("Law") and subsequent prosecution ("Order"). In the bestest episodes, you get a classic murder puzzle followed by a little morality play where the case is used to bring up issues of law, culture, and culpability (the best analogy I can make is to the social parable episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation). Seasons 4 through, gosh, 10 are where they really had this format down. After that it didn't start to suck or anything, it's just that the writing tricks and red herrings become easier to spot, the twists more contrived, and the endings, which were often left ambiguous, became more and more pat. It probably didn't help to have spinoffs suddenly cannibalizing story ideas. And also the last few years have been dragged down by a pretty big casting mistake.

"Law & Order" has a continually-rotating cast, which is easy to do since the character roles are really job slots. The "Law" side has two Homicide detectives and their squad captain, "Order" has a lead prosecutor, a 'second chair,' and the District Attorney of Manhattan, whose function in the show is to act as adviser. For the first ten years they had this guy playing a version of this guy, basically the wisest curmudgeon ever. His position was usually a two-word version of "my experience tells me what you want to do won't work, but go ahead and try it anyway." In 2002 someone decided it would be really cool to have an actual politician on the show, and suddenly the role ceased to function as an adviser and became a guy who says, "I'm the boss and what I say goes" (verbatim quote). Instead of scenes with intellectual give-and-take, you had actors working against an immovable object, and Sam Waterston's character, who entered the series as a hot-headed maverick, increasingly became the voice of reason.

This afternoon they re-ran an episode with Dianne Weist as the interim DA in which she called an lawyerly roundtable to help make up her mind about whether to seek the death penalty for an 18 year-old killer. She listened to all her advisers, including the previously most-conservative L&O character (of the "hey, criminals break laws and should be punished" variety) and in the end sided with the law and not her personal beliefs. That never, ever happened with Thompson/Branch. But he is gone now, his role filled by a promoted Sam Waterston, and I hope "Law & Order" goes another 18 years, if for no other reason than so I can teach a university course called "The American Social Fabric Viewed through 'Law & Order'."

What was the question?

Warhol Superstar said...

Hey, no--- your description was actually perfect (the TNG analogy was great, too-- as far as I can tell, it's quite apt)...you totally sold me. I came across an episode on TNT Saturday morning that was fairly entertaining ('Competence'-- Lt. Van Buren shoots/kills a kid who tries to rob her at an ATM). Sam Waterston was entertaining as hell.... Steven Hill was awesome as the 'wisest curmudgeon ever' (another apt description).... I don't know how you'd rank the show I saw overall, but if there are episodes better than that-- which I'm assuming there are-- I do believe I'm hooked.

It's too bad that there's not some multi-season mega-set available w/ audio and/or text commentary by you on every episode....

I'm curious--- what do you think of all the
spin-offs? Are they worth watching at all?

Thanks for all the information....you're the best. ---- Erica