Sunday, June 15, 2008

TBG's 2007-08 TV Report Card: Law & Order

Grade: B

Thoughts: The members of The Bootleg Family were perhaps the last souls on earth to discover the Law & Order franchise. The wife and I picked up on it in 2004, right after the premature birth of the boy and his subsequent doctor-mandated eight weeks of house arrest. And, thanks to the non-stop syndication on TNT, we plowed thru the first 15 seasons in just over two months.

The show was on wobbly legs entering its 18th season, though. A pair of recent L&O spin-offs (Trial by Jury and Conviction) flamed out and viewers began abandoning the original's familiar (formulaic?) structure for the increasingly soap operatic absurdity of Law & Order: SVU.

So, with only a midseason slot and truncated episode order, Law & Order made its 2008 debut on January 2. And, all things considered, it was one of the better seasons in recent memory.

Fred Thompson's failed presidential run meant that Sam Waterston's "Jack McCoy" was bumped up to (acting) District Attorney. He was replaced by Linus Roache as A.D.A. Michael Cutter. Born in Manchester, England, Roache's New York accent is slightly more grating than the authentic ones, but after a few episodes, he grew on me. He doesn't yet have the small-screen presence to commandeer the show's last 30 minutes of "Order" (in fact, Jack McCoy often got as many lines each week as Linus Roache), but he'll surely be given more to do next season.

On the "Law" side, after Milena Govich's disastrous run as "Nina Cassady, girl detective" in season 17, she was mercifully replaced with that "Billy" guy from Six Feet Under. Jeremy Sisto's "Cyrus Lupo" managed to rise above his contrived, convoluted backstory (in summary: "former terrorist hunter") to be a strong second banana to Jesse L. Martin's "Detective Ed Green". Speaking of whom, after nine seasons in the role, Martin left the show a few weeks prior to this year's season finale.

As always, the show's liberal bent tends take away from some of its authenticity (says, I, the registered Democrat) and the won-loss record for the prosecution this season was something like 17-1 (with a VORP of .9917), but Law & Order remains a most wonderfully oversimplified guilty pleasure.

Season's Best Episode: "Excalibur"…With an obvious nod to the Eliot Spitzer scandal, L&O took the real-life storyline and replaced the idiot politician with an intelligent conniver who remains one step ahead of the prosecution. Throw in an awesome, ambiguous guest spot by Allison Elliott as "the governor's wife" and it was like a throwback to the show's tabloid-y heyday.

Season's Worst Episode: "Burn Card"…The final episode for Jesse L. Martin (and first for his replacement, Anthony Anderson – late of FOX's K-Ville) was one of those storylines that ignores years and years of character development, just to write a character out. The by-the-book Det. Green turns murderous rogue? His subsequent trial and the ridiculous deus ex machina ending really left a sour aftertaste for me. Anderson, for what it's worth, has turned into a solid little TV actor, though.

In or Out for Next Season: In. There's no easier show(s) to plow through when three or four are backlogged on the DVR. Besides, I bring down the show's demographics by at least 60 years.


Tom said...

L&O and SVU started getting a little too self-righteous and "f*ck civil liberties" for me a few years ago. I'm pretty sure my personal Jump-the-Shark moment was "is it because I'm a lesbian?"

I'm glad I didn't watch Detective Green's exit... that would have annoyed me, too.

That Bootleg Guy said...

Ah, yes, the lesbian moment. Can't disagree with ya about any of the above, TD. What can I say? I'm a sucker for any show that can wrap up a murder trial in 55 minutes.