Lately I’ve been binge-watching Law & Order. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights WE tv, a cable station, shows back-to-back episodes of Law and Order. I’ve always loved this series. Not the spin-offs, like Criminal Intent or Special Victims Unit, but the real Law and Order, the original.
The formula for the series created by Dick Wolf is this: There is a crime, usually a murder, discovered by people going about their ordinary lives, and the story is about “the police who investigate the crimes” and “the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.” The first half of the show is the police investigation and the second half is the prosecution.
Law & Order ran for twenty years, tying with Gunsmoke for longevity and surpassed only by The Simpsons (26 years). It lives on in syndication and still holds up, even when the cops depend on pay phones and pagers instead of cell phones.
The stories are often taken from the headlines and fictionalized. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen them, I still enjoy them.
The show is also known for its changing cast of actors. Michael Moriarty, as the district attorney, leaves and Sam Waterston takes over. Both were wonderful in their parts. Chris Noth plays a police detective for several seasons, with two actors taking turns as his partner until the one-in-a-million Jerry Orbach took over and stayed for years. The police lieutenant S. Epatha Merkerson was another notable cast member, as were the actresses who changed every few years. We even got to know minor characters – the consulting psychiatrists, the medical examiner, the forensic scientists. That’s not to mention all the familiar actors who appear as the criminals or the victims.
The stories are always compelling and the writing is terrific, but I believe what kept (and keeps) us watching are the characters. Each of them are unique and complex characters. They have backstories and imperfections. They are so finely drawn that you feel you know them.
I never see an episode that I do not wish I could have been an extra on the set, preferably the murder victim. I think that would have been a hoot!
How about you? Do you watch Law & Order? Do you like the original or one of the spin-offs? Is there another series you like to binge-watch?