Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: 'Law & Order' returns

And yet another column from today, reviewing the bright, shiny but still fundamentally familiar new season of "Law & Order":
There was a period late in the lifespan of GM's now-defunct Oldsmobile line when the dependability that had made the line so successful for so long began to be viewed as a drawback, not an asset in a youth-driven marketplace. "Not your father's Oldsmobile" became the new tagline, but it didn't help, as it alienated the people who actually liked their father's cars. GM added different bells and whistles, tweaked the basic concept as much as they could, but eventually phased out the line.

The original "Law & Order" was nearly at that stage last May. NBC was putting together its fall schedule, and suddenly all those familiar, reliable qualities that had made the show one of the most ubiquitous brands in primetime seemed like a hindrance. Why bother tuning in to new episodes of the old warhorse when reruns and the spin-offs were on virtually 24-7 around the channel guide? They tried adding younger, prettier female sidekicks on both the cop and lawyer side without halting the ratings slide. (The move to Fridays didn't help, admittedly, but the show had been trending downward on Wednesdays, too.)

At the last minute, NBC cut a deal with franchise overlord Dick Wolf to bring the original back at mid-season, which has turned into a stroke of luck. When it returns tonight, it'll be one of the few well-known scripted shows with a lot of episodes left, and much of the competition will be repeats due to the writers' strike.

But the first five episodes of season 18 couldn't help reminding me of the "Not your father's Oldsmobile" campaign.
To read the full column, click here.

16 comments:

Andrew said...

So is the premiere episode tonight an actual two-hour episode, or just two separate episodes being broadcast consecutively? NBC hasn't really been very clear about this.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Separate episodes.

Ken said...

the gorgeous prosecutorial sidekick, Connie Rubirosa. She's no Hennessy, or even Angie Harmon, but she's now comfortably above the Elisabeth Rohm level.

One thing about the cast's revolving door is that Jack McCoy had the best string of attractive if not downright gorgeous co-workers, perhaps in the history of television. The lucky bastard.

Alan Sepinwall said...

But other than Claire, were there ever hints that he slept with the others? We know he wasn't sleeping with Serena, right?

Matt said...

Per Wikipedia:

"In the beginning, he is also a notorious womanizer, having had sexual relationships with four of his female assistants. This has often blown up in his face, however: one such assistant, Diana Hawthorne, is, in the episode "Trophy", found to have suppressed evidence so they could win a case (unbeknownst to McCoy, and to his horror upon finding out); another, Claire Kincaid, is killed in a car accident in the episode "Aftershock". . . . Since Kincaid's death, McCoy has kept his relationships with assistants (who have all been female, attractive, and half his age) professional, although he nurtures friendships with all of them."

And how about bringing back Alex Cabot as the senior ADA?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Since Kincaid's death, McCoy has kept his relationships with assistants (who have all been female, attractive, and half his age) professional, although he nurtures friendships with all of them."

But keep in mind that, since Claire died, the show went back to being far more circumspect about characters' personal lives. The year where we figured out they were having an affair was the only one where they were that overt about romance and whatnot, though they go back to that area a bit with Sisto's character in the premiere.

For all we know, Jack was still Jack with some of the later hotties (again, excluding Serena).

dez said...

We know he wasn't sleeping with Serena, right?

Is it because she's a lesbian?

Oh, man, that line and it's various permutations will never not be funny...

dez said...

^ "its" even. Jeez!

Stef said...

The cast is holding up fairly well so far, I think, although Linus Roach's accent-covering-accent is bugging me for some reason. I am glad that overall the men on this show, in their own way, are now just as attractive as the ladies!

paul said...

I liked the new cast and the format tweaks. The show is not as good as it was in its heyday, but these two episodes were pretty good and certainly better than anything in the last few seasons. It was interesting to hear McCoy discussing the nitty-gritty of Cutter's tactics (e.g., the witness list), rather than just a Schiff-esque "make a deal." I kept hoping, though, that when McCoy was criticizing Cutter for some overly aggressive tactic, Cutter would throw back some similar stunt McCoy had pulled.

I don't mind the lack of backstory. This is pure procedure, about as pure as it gets. Some of the weakest episodes got bogged down in a character's personal problems. I was not a fan, for instance, of the episodes involving Lenny's drug-dealing daughter. (Get the impression I watch too much TNT?) If you want the personal lives of cops, there are other shows out there. Heck, that was just about all that ever happened in NYPD Blue.

Matt said...

I'm particularly digging the new addition of Sisto. Maybe it's because I'm a lawyer and the lawyer side of the show typically does pretty good (and fairly accurate) legal issues (even if the procedure is all wrong), but the cops needed a shakeup in the post-Orbach era and Sisto's crazy intensity worked well to keep it from being rote. (Though please, let's not have every episode be about him Taking! It! Personally!)

And why not make Dr. Death one of Jack's first big murder prosecutions to up the ante there a little?

Anonymous said...

Sisto will forever be "Crazy Billy" to me! Glad to see he's got a new gig.

CarolMR said...

I think it was a big mistake taking Sam Waterston out of the courtroom.

Stef said...

Anon - Sisto goes from being "Crazy Billy" to "Elton" in my head.... wow how he's grown since his Clueless days!

Anonymous said...

My response to that photo was: "I had no idea Jeremy Sisto was that tall."

I loved Kidnapped (Netflix it, people! What are you waiting for?), so I tuned back in for these episodes. And honestly, even with the new cast, the show doesn't really hold my attention. And yet if I catch one of the classic Orbach-era shows, I'm always sucked in! I firmly believe the show used to be much better written. MUCH.

I did like the chase sequence with the whistles, though.

Rand said...

I've always liked Law and Order but almost always I've watched it in reruns. As a show it's almost never been bad, often been good and interesting, rarely been great. That hasn't made it enough for me to lock the show into my schedule but when I see that it's on and I have no other plans I tend to watch it.

But the reason it's so watchable is that it is its bare-bone procedural essence. The actors and characters serve to carry out that procedure with power and talent but when they swerve into back-stories I find myself yawning. With 90% of the show devoted to procedural it's hard to develop the backstory in a way that would be interesting but not draw attention away from the procedural bulk of the show. Many shows I think have often gone from procedural first seasons to serialized second seasons, but this late in the game, it's hard to make a serialized season fit with the overall procedural feel of Law and Order without throwing out the whole show all together (which is why I suppose the spin-offs have been able to be serialized).

However, even if it stays procedural I think the show is eventually doomed. There are only so many twists you can have within a certain plot skeleton before you're just doing a lesser quality version of what you did before. I think that's the real root of the decline in quality. Furthermore there's enough episodes that most viewers could turn on a rerun and have the same chance to see a highly good episode they haven't seen before as they would catching a new episode.

So, sad but true, I think Law and Order is doomed, but some of the spin-offs might survive and maybe someday enough time will pass for a revival.