Why Powerful People Love Law & Order

Yesterday in Slate Editor Michael Kinsley wrote a column musing on why his wife liked old episodes of Law & Order. I felt that as humor, nostalgia or serious, the article failed in every way.

Here, take a look yourself: Why Powerful Women Love Law & Order

After thinking about it awhile, I wrote a lengthy response in the Comments. If I do say so myself, I think my response was much better than the article. Take a look at Kinsley's words (it's short), and then here was my response:

This is one of the most poorly written articles I have ever read on Slate, and by Kinsley, no less! It's not whimsical or farcical enough to be funny; a Garrison Keiller or Dave Barry approach would have worked well.

Maybe it was supposed to be quasi-serious? If so, the anecdotal evidence was not only beyond pathetic (and cherry-picked in that worst elitist way), but almost no attempt was made to "frame" the question.

The least Kinsley could have done was offer analysis, or hell, downright guess. Much as I have every confidence that Troy Patterson is a prick, he's also a very good writer, and this subject would be in his wheelhouse. Why not have Slate's TV writer take a stab?

Nonetheless, despite the jarringly terrible way in which this piece was written, I too think Kinsley might be on to something. I have heard more than a few professional women talk about how they like old Law & Order episodes. These are their stories:

A show like Law & Order is a procedural, which differs from a serial. Where the latter builds complexity with character development (and inter-development), "arcs" through the season(s) and is heavily back-story dependent (meaning you have to watch faithfully to understand what's going on), procedurals are almost the exact opposite.

If you've seen one episode of Law & Order, you've seen them all, in the sense that the structure is virtually always the same. (The opening is the crime. After the credits up to almost halfway is the police investigation, which will include one false start, and the second half is the trial, including the last ten minutes where something shakes loose, either changing who we think did it, why they did it, or some other revelation.)

In addition, (especially in the first 12 years) the cast of L&O was very stable, and within the show each main actor performed almost the same job each episode, with VERY little character development.

The point of all this is that Law & Order is the perfect escape show for for certain type of people looking to turn off their brains after a hard day's work. This isn't to say the show is vapid or facile, but it's highly structured and accessible. Watching a single episode prepares you to watch every other episode ever made. You can jump in at almost any point of an episode and already have a 76% familiarity with the case they're on just from the structure and cast.

The characters on Law & Order are hard-working and good at their jobs. The women are all extraordinarily competent, beautiful without being flashy, dress seriously and are accorded respect due to their abilities. (It's almost upper-middle class porn.) The men are handsome and virile w/out being models or weight-lifters--attainable?--o​r are patrician elder statesman like a revered father or grandfather figure. The "good" guys don't always win, but we know they should, and any moral lapses are either defensible in the greater good sense, or corrected before the end.

The women I've spoken to like the sophisticated simplicity. Problems at home (kids, money, significant others) play almost no part in any of the characters' lives, so that resonance isn't there. Every hours' end brings a resolution, so there's never any need to ask, "Where is this episode going?" And while girls may love a bad boy, women tend to love social justice, which plays right in.

Some of my reasons might explain in part why there is a women-centered Law & Order trend, if there is a trend . Or, my limited sample size may offer no general insights whatsoever. At least I offered ideas and had the first clue of what the show was even about. That puts me two up on the author already.

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