Thursday, January 3, 2008

Law & Order - A Shaky Start?

The much awaited Law & Order season premier last night left me with mixed feelings. It was great to have the show back, but I’m not quite sure that I liked some of the changes. Generally, I thought both episodes were average.

The good: Sam Waterston is still in it. Alana De La Garza finally looks human. Favorites S. Epatha Merkerson and Jesse Martin are still holding the fort. Linus Roache looks like a good fit. The opening credits finally have new pictures, and Jack McCoy looks appropriately like the “BMOC” (Big Man On Campus for those of you who can’t keep up on abbreviations). I have to admit, though, that I miss “The Walk” down the hallway with Jack, and the new shot, take outside at the courthouse, makes the group look disconnected emotionally, like they are not really a team.

The bad: The stories. The shaky cam. The lifeless, trite dialog. Jeremy Sisto. The spark, and the edginess, is gone. Suddenly the entire DA’s office seems to have a lot more people milling around and seems a lot messier.

In my opinion, the first episode “Called Home” was an uninteresting story that really didn’t seem to draw me in. How many times does the franchise have to do a story on assisted suicides and the fallout from them? The series used to take great pains to keep personal information out of the show, and only feed it to people in tiny tidbits buried somewhere in the dialog or scene, as some sort of ghostly apparition. With this episode, we get a mumbling Cyrus Lupo – and his brother's family – as the central story line. I cringed every time his sister in law and kids appeared on the screen. I hoped this would not be a pattern (more on this later).

Jack McCoy had the best lines in the show. For example, he says to Cutter when Cutter seems in over his head; “ Duffy. Look that up in your gadget.” And of course, there's the slam against Arthur Branch, and maybe all the other previous District Attorneys, “ It’s a working office now, not a showroom.” Of course, Jack still seems to have the need to hang his clothes in his office, despite the fact that as DA, he probably has a very nice closet somewhere.

And this may seem like an insignificant issue to most people, but I really didn’t care for the woman judge. I wish we would have gotten one of the usual standbys as we did in the second episode. Maybe the old standbys are abandoning a sinking ship? And did I miss somewhere a previous explanation of what happened to Detective Nina Cassady (Milena Govich)? Not that I miss her - I don’t - it just would be nice if the show explained it.

Can anyone verify a timeline issue? The date indicated August 15 when the TV guy’s defense attorney was on the outside stairs to the courthouse, when he said that Jack was in DA’s office for less than two weeks. Does anyone recall the date shown when Jack made his first appearance as DA on Law & Order SVU a few weeks back? (By the way, Jack’s office looked much cleaner then.) I’m wondering if they synchronized the timelines. We know that Dick Wolf are not that good in continuity.

The second episode, “Darkness” begins with a horrifying sight for me. Lupo’s brother’s family has returned. Oh please, my brain screamed silently, don’t make this a habit. The first segment seemed more like a Criminal Intent episode, where we are introduced to the victims. Frankly, I prefer the standard Law & Order intro where the crime has already taken place. In my opinion, it cuts to the chase a little faster, and makes the unfolding of the story and building the case more compelling.

There were also a few things that seemed off. For example, where they were chasing the guy who was on the bike, when Ed and Cyrus rounded the corner, the shop owner was already shouting to them that the man had an accident. There also seemed to be way too much blood on the ground for something that just happened and instant earlier. Prior to that scene, Ed also suddenly forgets Lennie’s patented way of getting around the need for a search warrant, where Lennie would say “I think I hear a scream”, or “I think I smell gas” etc. to rationalize his entry. Instead, Ed calls Cutter, who is in a courtroom that seems to be in complete disarray due to a simple power outage. I would have been much easier if Ed would have just learned from Lennie and taken the risk. The whole issue with the absent warrant may have been moot. On a separate issue: did we really need a scene where a woman on the street comes on to Lupo during the outage? A completely worthless scene, seemingly the purpose was that we were supposed to find Lupo attractive? (I don't.)

It also appears that Jack McCoy, the EADA who never seemed to care about politics or his job, is suddenly rife with commentary about protecting himself. We heard it in the first episode when Jack rails on Cutter for making what he thought was a questionable arrest, and in “Darkness”, Jack says “What do you do for fun Mike? Juggle chains saws with my neck on the line?” Of course, there’s also the inference that Jack is, well, old. Rubirosa mentions in an earlier scene that Jack still has an antique typewriter in his office that’s she’d pry out of his hands. Couple that with the ubiquitous Blackberry and it’s their way of saying out with the old, in with the new, and even Jack has sold out to a point.

The one line that was right on the mark was during a scene in McCoy’s office, while they were discussing the power company collusion. I had just been thinking that the writers really stretched this story to an unbelievable place with the whole idea that the kidnapping was timed to coincide with the power outage. Right at that point, McCoy says “The vice president of a power company involved in a kidnapping? C’mon!” Thanks Jack, for being as incredulous as I was and for stating the obvious. Of course, that acknowledgement, probably put there by the writers to maybe get them off the hook for such a ridiculous stretch, didn’t make it any better.

While I’m glad the show is back, I think that the show has lost its way. It seems to be sanitized of any drama, and of credible stories. Jeremy Sisto mumbles worse than Richard Brooks when he played Paul Robinette in the early years of the series, and Sisto seems to be the weak link here. He’s overly brooding and a little lifeless to me. But there is hope in the DA’s office. Linus Roache show promise, despite the trite, and fake, New York accent. Alana De La Garza finally looks like the beautiful woman that she is, and even her acting seems to have increased life. And of course, Sam Waterston is still there, acting as the glue that keeps it all together.

I hope the following weeks are better...or that my expectations come back down to earth.

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Anonymous said...

To answer your question about continuity, in the SVU episode Blinded, the date given right before we see Jack McCoy is November 8th. That would seem to have given him some time to adjust to the job, we hope!

All Things Law & Order said...

Thanks for the information, crowy. That would have also given Jack plenty of time to straighten up his office a bit, too. It certainly looked more organized when he was on SVU!

Anonymous said...

I cannot watch the show any more because scenes where no one is moving but the camera constantly wiggles side to side makes me ill. Only use shaky cam when it is needed or an action scene.