Even if you hate cop or lawyer shows, you've seen at least one episode.
There have been about 10 different spin-offs (actually there are four) of this show, but only one holds a small place in my heart and that's the original “Law and Order”. You know the one, Chris Noth or Jesse L. Martin or Benjamin Bratt is paired off with either Jerry Orbach or Dennis Farina as the no-nonsense cops on the Law side. And Sam Waterston is the crusty executive assistant District Attorney with the semi-hot assistant and has Fred Thompson or Steven Hill (Diane Weist absolutely sucked) is his boss on the Order side.
The show has been on since September of 1990 and is shown on a perpetual rerun loop on TNT every single day.
Despite its omnipresence, “Law and Order” is a good show. It's just thoughtful enough to keep you engaged, but it's not so taxing as to make you run to the local law library to review cases. Quite frankly, TNT has this correct: it's the perfect show for the daytime set.
A typical episode begins like this: two people are usually walking around a borough of New York City talking about something that has nothing to do with the case. Sometimes, the initial conversation is more intriguing than the actual show. They come across someone who was murdered or raped and murdered or robbed, raped and murdered. In any event the person is dead. The two people stop their conversation and call the cops.
The normal cops will either set up a tight perimeter or screw something up royally which will get one of the detectives to yell at them. The latter doesn't happen that much and I'm convinced that when it does it's because one of the writers got a parking ticket or some other small infraction with the law and needs to let out some residual anger. It's usually pretty good.
Once the detectives are on the scene, they begin picking up clues like there's no tomorrow, only they can't always piece them together themselves so it's back to the precinct where the Buddah-like Lieutenant (S. Epatha Merkson) puts most of the pieces together and tells the duo to get back out on the street and start interviewing people.
This is where you are supposed to remember that it's a television show and suspend belief for a couple of minutes. In order for the cops to make the correct bust everyone in New York city from the top CEOs to the guys pushing brooms or hot dog carts have the greatest long term memory for the benign that you'd ever want to meet.
Cop 1: “Do you remember that car that you parked next to, eight months ago?”
Witness: “You mean the 2001 silver Honda Civic sedan with a dent in the passenger side door, a scrape of paint missing from the bumper and the antenna bent a bit?”
Cop 2: “Yeah. That's the one. What can you tell us about it?”
Witness: “If I remember right it had just over 85,000 miles which I thought was funny because it looked like it should only have 84,500 miles. Also it seemed to take Ultra Plus gas instead of regular because of the residue on the pavement. Sorry that I can't give you more information than that. I only saw the car for a second.”
Cop 1: “I guess it'll have to do.”
All of this information is then used to bust the perp and bring him or her down town. While in the holding tank the detectives take the old good cop/bad cop routine to the Nth degree; throwing people up against the wall, badgering them for information, everything except beating a confession out of them. This is usually where we meet Waterston's assistant. Nine out of ten times, she's smoking hot and none was hotter than Elisabeth Rohm. Two things about Rohm: apparently she was quite the party girl in real life so seeing her dressed up and serious is probably a stretch for her and two she can't act for shit.
Who cares, because like I said, she's supposed to be hot. The woman before her, Angie Harmon, actually did a decent job though and the two after her aren't too shabby either. She gets all of the information down and sends it off to Watterston who then begins his weekly crusade against something.
Waterston does a terrific job of playing the smug, douche-y lawyer that is convinced beyond a shadow of any doubt that he is 100% right about everything. He comes in lays out the facts, tries to bully the judge, rolls his eyes at the defendant and does everything in his power to make sure the criminal goes to jail for a long time. Then it's judgement time and we go home.
Waterston's character is sort of a prick, in fact most of these characters are self-righteous pricks, but Waterston takes the cake. That's why I love it when he loses and he's awesome to root against. Because when he loses his case, man, that's just awesome. And this is no Perry Mason where Waterston wins everything, he loses his fair share; though recently with him as the DA he hasn't lost a heck of a lot – but the drama is stil there.
Why do I like this show if it's filled with a bunch of assholes and the cases (RIPPED FROM TODAY'S HEADLINES!) are fundamentally simple? Because like “Gillian's Island” and “The Brady Bunch” “Law and Order” follows a pretty simple formula every episode. You can sit back and root for the people you like, scoff at the things that are unbelievable and kvetch about the decision ... especially when the DA has the last witty retort. The show is a terrific way to kill a post-New Year's Eve, post-July 4th or post-Arbor Day hangover.
And sometimes, that's just enough.