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Law & Order

Law & Order

January 20, 2019 11:43 amComments are Disabled

It’s inevitable that every 3-6 months I will dive down a Law & Order rabbit hole. If I’m at my parents’ house, it tends to be Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I believe with confidence that I have seen every episode of every version of the franchise, with the understandable exception of that Trial by Jury malarkey.

I must be some kind of sadist, though not an uncommon one, to be so obsessed with this show. I’m not generally into crime shows but L&O is different. It’s a character-driven, not an action-driven show, with elements of the crime only secondary to the drama unfolding with the excellent rotating cast.

It’s also unusual with the depth of attention given to the ‘Order’ part of the narrative, evoking real-life legal battles and complicated questions of police ethics, relative morality, civil rights and the justice system in general. The legal debate may be charged for effect, and any lawyer will tell you that most law is boring paperwork, not flashy closing statements. But the issues are real and deserve an intellectually honest airing. Over the years, no sacred cow has been spared. Multiple episodes are dedicated to the politics of abortion, freedom of speech, gun control, environmentalism, race, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, horse racing, religious freedom, and more. Episodes from the late 90’s were particularly prescient in their discussion of modern-day issues such as data privacy and internet safety.

It’s also not just a show for seriousness. Lennie Briscoe’s one-liners are legendary. Adam Schiff was known to make a joke or two in his day. John Munch, a character that has appeared on 10 different television shows across five networks, cracks wise so much he has been divorced three times. The line when Odafin Tutuola told Munch that he was secretly a Republican was probably the funniest moment of the show.

Through the evolution of the characters we see not just humor but watch as deep, realistic personal issues get faced head-on, from Olivia Benson’s struggle to survive sexual assault and kidnapping, to Ed Green’s past as a gambling addict.

With all this going for it, it’s not a surprise the franchise has been on TV, in some form or another, for almost 30 years. It has survived a re-alignment of television around the internet streaming age, and the formula has changed to allow for more on-screen action, but the basic premise is the same, and the show still lets drama, not cheap shots, carry the day.

Only time will tell if Law & Order will survive for another 30 years, but I hope it does. It brings a level of nuance and seriousness to important issues that need to be discussed the way that a Jack McCoy would discuss them. And in the age of instant gratification and made-for-every-brain television, it’s nice that there’s still a show that has mass appeal purely for its willingness to take on real and controversial issues head on.

It’s Sunday. Time for another SVU marathon.

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