Thursday, November 20, 2008

Law and Order - It's About Craft

Whenever I see a critic start to talk about the artistic success of a network show, I tense up a little bit. The temptation to try and put some of that good old postgraduate seminar time to use proves too great for some, if not most.

Troy Patterson, writing in Slate, talks about the long running success of that old warhorse: Law and Order. It's a show I have always liked.

Mrs. Mirror and I have a pact that if we happen to be flipping the channels, and L&O, (in any of its incarnations,) appears on the television, we have to change it immediately if it is too late at night. The addictive nature of the program, combined with its availability on numerous basic cable stations, can do a number on one's sleep patterns.

Patterson, writing about flagship of the franchise, (the plain old Law and Order,) thankfully doesn't try to get postmodern or mythic on us. Instead, he focuses on the show's almost relentless adherence and mastery of the procedural craft:

And despite the show's excesses, its signs of deterioration and ossification, its laughable mannerisms, Law & Order still displays a singular feeling for pace. It's snappier than a procedural of its advanced age has any right to be.


While pursuing false leads is integral to every cop show, L&O has transformed the convention into a kind of institution. As the detectives fish for red herrings throughout New York City, the show brightens with local color, imagining Gotham as the land of prep-school boys in blue blazers, floozies with yellow hair, pink-cheeked yuppies, gray-faced burghers, purple-tongued aesthetes. The tensions of caste and hierarchy in the imperial city—the frequent throwaway bits about downtrodden assistants and dissipated heirs—are diverting, and the humble details of place are essential to the texture. Last week's best bit of stage business saw Bernard shove a park-based dope dealer onto a metal hobbyhorse mounted near a jungle gym. "Siddown," he said, and the horsy creaked.


Stuart said...

Mr. Mirror,

Did you catch the L&O about echo-terrorists planning to blow up some animal testing lab or what-not? And they ate don't even need police work...there's a sure echo-terrorist. I would just stake out the Morningstar Farms area in the freezer section.

Have you noticed that the blue-blazer wearing prep school kids, grey burghers, purple-tounged aesthetes, and the rest of suspects are always wrong, and the cops are always right? It pits knights of justice against the perps. And somehow, everyone other than the knights are suspect. The cops, flawed though some are, are always exonerated for there sins. The low-lifes and upper-class low-lifes are never morally ambiguous characters. It's a cold view of the city. Oh yeah, and I didn't like the cop responding to one young man's (not suspect) sarcasm with, "Keep it up, and you'll be spending the weekend in Rikers'" I really didn't like that.

Art said...

You're right, Stuart.

One difference between the original L&O, (Michael Moriarty era,) and the current show, is that it was never a guarantee that:

A. The cops would win


B. The cops were right.

The new Law and Order has a tendency to introduce these ideas, but then drop them.

Your comment concentrates on the LAW portion, but I suppose it could be extended to the ORDER just as easily. For instance, just about every lawyer for the defense gives off a slick, if not slighty slimy aura. They are the defense laywers of right wing nightmares.