Law and Order: Los Angeles - Wednesdays at 10:00 (NBC)
My dad and I have been watching Law and Order since it first began, the early days of Ben Stone, Paul Robinette and Max Creevy. Watching those early episodes now is almost comical; they totally didn't know what they were doing, but at the time it was new, exciting and invigorating.
Over the years my dad stayed more of a fan than I did. It took me a long while to warm up to Criminal Intent, and I come and go with my appreciation for SVU. As for the original, I've long since seen it as appointment viewing, but still liked to watch from time to time with my dad.
When the Flagship show was canceled and plans for a Los Angeles edition were announced my dad was skeptical. "They'll have to go a long way to top the original." he pronounced more than once this summer. (More than a dozen times, but don't tell him I said that.)
We finally watched the premiere episode the other night, a slick case about Hollywood starlets getting robbed, and what was for sure a virtual Roman a Clef of Lindsay Lohan's life and times.
The lead detective was played by Skeet Ulrich, who I guess was introduced in the SVU episode just beforehand. I've never been a fan of Skeet from all the way back to the SCREAM and TOUCH days, but my brother was a big fan of Jericho, so maybe TV is Skeet's milieu.
The other detective was more interesting to me, played by Corey Stoll, one of those guys who's just been around in a lot of stuff but never really got a chance to shine. Ulrich is the lead and the headlining name, but this guy seemed to have more going on.
They got three famous names for the D.A. half, Peter Coyote (above), one of those guys who's just been in everything as the District Attorney (think: the Fred Thompson part), and two movie stars, Alfred Molina (Doc Ocks in Spider-Man 2) and Terrence Howard (Oscar-nominated for Hustle and Flow) who will split time as the Assistant D.A.'s who actually try the cases.
I haven't seen a Howard episode yet, but Molina's episode seemed devoid of much passion, though he brings a lot of "presence" to any role, so I can only assume that was the toned-down writing of the first episode.
Speaking of which, as the first episode ended my father proclaimed, "I know it's early, and things could change, but I don't see this show beating the original."
I tried to stifle a laugh. "Let's be honest, dad." I said. "The Lord could come back in this episode, you were always going to say that." I pointed out that the other three Law and Orders took a while, sometimes more than a season, to find their footing.
Dad disagreed. "They've been doing this for 20 years, you'd think they'd have it down by now!" He went on. "What's missing is the tension. This was so laid-back, which is an L.A. kind of thing, but I don't think that works for Law and Order."
We argued goodnaturedly about it for a few more minutes and I went back to work. The thing is, though (and NOBODY tell him this), I pretty much agree with my dad across the board. They have had 20 years to figure it out; they should have come out of the blocks a little better. This episode started without any introduction to anyone - they acted like we'd been watching these characters for 3 seasons.
Maybe a sense of familiarity was their goal, but if so, why did they get rid of the cool theme-music? Every show has riffed on the original theme, but all we get here is 2 seconds' worth. And the opening voice ("In the Criminal Justice system....") was gone! Now how am I supposed to know who represents the People? Most galling, there was no BONG-BONG sound effect! Sacrilege. I know Skeet Ulrich is behind this. You're not too cool for the BONG-BONG, Skeet!
(The case of the missing BONG-BONG)
As I said above, when the original Law and Order started, they didn't know what they were doing, and looking back now, it often seems amateurish. But I still love those episodes. There was a crackle of tension in every scene. You weren't sure what was going to happen. They were making it up as they went, establishing one of the greatest police shows ever, and making the one-hour procedural a staple of modern TV viewing.
Law and Order Los Angeles is too smooth for that. Maybe it's not a fair criticism, since just a few sentences ago I griped that they should know what they're doing earlier on. Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe they do know what they doing, and it's just not that exciting any more.
[Check out my Mt. Rushmore of Law and Order characters]