Thursday, January 10, 2008

Law & Order “Misbegotten”: Missed the Mark, Got Me Confused

I can always tell the sign of a confusing episode. It’s when I have to back up the recording and watch a scene over.

I had to do that a lot for “Misbegotten.” The first problem was that there were many times that I had to re-listen to something that Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) said, because he seems to mumble AND speak in a very low register, which for me makes him hard to understand. The second problem is that there were too many people and names involved that I was having a hard time keeping track of who was who. The third time was to enjoy the scenes with Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) because right now they seem to be the best parts of the show.

Many other things seem “off” in other ways with this new season of Law & Order. I think it’s a collection of many things:

1. Jeremy Sisto, who seems to be so low key and brooding that he’s almost invisible to me. Speak up and emote, please!

2. Weird camera angles. In one scene, Ed (Jesse Martin) was questioning a husband and wife about their involvement, and the camera is shooting Ed and the husband from the back. You can see one side of Ed’s face and a lot of his body, but most of the rest of the shot is the husband's back – and glare. There was also a scene in Anita’s (S. Epatha Merkerson) office where she is talking to Green and Lupo and her back is to the camera. I never saw more backs in my life, and it makes for uninteresting viewing.

3. Yet another reference to Lupo’s sister-in-law, and a strange one at that. Did we really have to see her legs walking up the stairs while Ed stared at them? This does not bode well, I think. Please make the sister-in-law go away.

4. Along that line, what is the deal with all this personal information from the characters? I really though it odd when Ed went on about his personal experience with abortion. It seemed out of place for a show that always took great pains to keep personal stuff out. Couple that with Ed’s staring at the sister-in-law, and suddenly I don’t care if I get to know Ed any more.

5. The first half of this show seemed abnormally confusing to me. I couldn’t keep track of all the players. I also sensed a weird vibe with Anita and Ed, and Anita and Lupo. She suddenly seems at odds with both of them. Frankly I would think by now she would be able to have a different kind of discussion with Ed if she questioned something he did. The whole chemistry with the detective group is way off. I'm going to say something very frightening here: I think that I would rather see Chester Lake (Adam Beach) from the SVU team paired with Ed. As annoying as Chester is, he would have been a better fit on L&O. (I can't believe said it, but there it is.)

6. The introduction of the baseball bat in Cutter’s office was silly. The manner in which it was done was as serious as an infraction as too much personal information. Case in point: In Jack’s office, we always saw fleeting hints of Jack in either a picture or something he kept on his credenza, like that model sailboat or the picture of his daughter. Those things were always props, yet they teased at whom Jack McCoy “the person” was. But, I guess that the people writing the show now think that with Cutter, we need to make his props more obvious, and literally and figuratively hitting us with it using a baseball bat. It seemed very out of place and way too staged, and came off as phony.

7. The limited courtroom scenes were dull.

Things I liked:

1. Jack McCoy. He’s still got “IT”, and is getting the best lines and scenes of the show. “Put that away” in response to Cutter’s (Linus Roache) dragging out his blackberry to call the judge. “Too late, Joe…Judge”, Jack catches himself referring to the judge by his name during an ex parte discussion – and the Judge’s comment “Nice to still see you tilting at windmills.” Jack McCoy – and of course Sam Waterston – really know how to bring out the drama.

2. The second half of the show has more possibilities than the first. Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) had funny dialog with Cutter. When Cutter says, “This boy of yours, Jack McCoy…” and she responds, “We agreed no dumping on Jack in front of Connie.” I think Cutter and Rubirosa have potential for great chemistry.

The real stinker here was the story itself. It didn’t grab me. It didn’t draw me in. There was no drama. I didn’t care about the characters or the outcome. It was like everybody is going through the motions. And the whole “feel” of the show seems foreign. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking the formula of a show to bring some excitement, but there’s also the adage “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” It seems that in the process of changing out and adding actors, they’ve messed with the formula, the camera angles, the look of the sets, the feel of the dialog, etc. I don’t feel like I am watching the same Law & Order that I have loved and enjoyed all these years.

I keep hoping that the next episode will be better, but somehow I don’t have high hopes for this season. If the show continues to get its rhythm in the second half of the show, there may be hope. But I do have worries about the first half of the show. It’s fallen and I’m not sure it can get up.

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caponsacchi said...

Well, the previous reviewer confirmed some of my feelings but didn't explain who the real bomber was and why he did it. The gay brother claim in the rush of the last few seconds that he'd done it. Did he? Why. The scenes are so short, the editing so choppy, that I couldn't even remember if I'd seen the accused earlier in the show.

I haven't followed the show but remember see
camera work, mis en scene, and editing were more conventional than the weird camera angles and the extremely shakey camera (intentional, for increased "dock-realism") employed on this post-Orbach episode.

I'd say the director figured, rightly or wrongly, that he had a weak (i.e. static) script and would have to compensate for the lack of genuine dramatic action with the active (vertiginous!) camera work and editing. (Leave that stuff to the French New Wavers of the '50s.) At least the show was such a dud that it began to make "Criminal Minds" look good by comparison. I've never seen "Law and Order" go that low--not even close. (BTW, I also wondered what the point was of showing us the one cop's voyeuristic moment when the camera fetishizes on the legs of the woman ascending the staircase. There's no excuse for footage like that unless it's essential to plot and character. (Sorry about having to be so unoriginal.)

Chris Zimmer said...

Now I'm going to have to watch this episode again!