A longtime love of Law and Order
Each of us, at some time, may become addicted to something. OK, I admit it. I had to wean myself off of Diet Pepsi — and yes, I sometimes fall off the wagon.
That battle is now largely over, but the most serious addiction in my life continues to be “Law and Order” and all of the various spin-offs. How do you know when you have LaOA (Law and Order Addiction)? You know when you have seen each episode at least three times and have to make deals with yourself not to watch them yet again.
I’ve watched for years. I was watching before Sam Waterston, when Michael Moriarty played the assistant DA. When he left, I became a Sam Waterston fan and kept watching as his wrinkles became more pronounced and his hair got grayer. I’ve done three extended interviews with Sam, who lives among us.
When I met him, it was like the first time I interviewed Pete Seeger. In both cases, I could not believe that the men were just as I had imagined them to be, flawless and too good to be true.
At one point, I asked Sam how long he would stay with the show and he cautioned me that “there will be life after ‘Law and Order.'”
The genius who put the franchise together and made a great deal of money, thought to be upward of a billion dollars, is Dick Wolfe. In fact, he started at least four, maybe five, different versions of the show. One of them died.
Of the three survivors, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” is probably my least favorite. Not because of the actors, who are terrific, but because of the subject matter, which seems particularly gruesome. Pedophiles and rapists are so repugnant to me that I find it hard to watch the stuff.
But now I am annoyed, despite my gratitude for all these years of watching.
In fact, I’m really ticked off. They killed off the wonderful police captain, played by Eric Bogosian in the seminal episode. I loved the guy and the character he played. What could they have been thinking?
Now when I watch and old “L&O” episodes, I’ll see the guy and say, “Oh, how depressing, he’s dead.” Why did they have to kill him off? Why not send him out to another job as chief of detectives in Boston?
Another spinoff, “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” is terrific. Vincent D’Onofrio has been superb in the role of Detective Robert Goren. Like a fine wine, he’s grown better as he put on too much weight and got grayer.
For a brief period I worked for the New York City Police Department, and I have to tell you that D’Onofrio looks like a cop. One of the things I hate about the new cop shows (post-“Law and Order”) is that cops don’t look like these people. They look like D’Onofrio. Kathryn Erbe, Goren’s TV partner, is a good enough actress to make you believe that she was the daughter of a cop herself.
Finally, there is the granddaddy of them all, “Law and Order.” When Jerry Orbach was dying, they retired his character, Lenny Briscoe, to yet another show. But they treated him with respect. Ditto Sam Waterston. Now he’s playing the district attorney, the top guy. He’s terrific, as always. He’s a superb actor, maybe the best in America. Sam was the emcee at Orbach’s funeral.
The new kids who are playing the detectives and the prosecutors are just fine. One of them looks like Andrew Cuomo. I don’t know how I feel about that.
We’ve read that one of the real old-timers on the show, S. Epatha Merkerson who plays Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, is retiring. We’ll all miss her. Her character in the series has been fighting cancer so convincingly that people think Merkerson is actually sick. Pound for pound, she may be one of the two or three finest actors on the show. She has had a huge commitment to fighting lung cancer in real life, having lost some friends to the disease.
If “Law and Order” can hang on for one more season, I recently read, it will be the longest running series on TV, outliving “Gunsmoke.” The problem is that with all the new developments in all the series, I am growing as old and as disillusioned as many of the characters I have grown to love. Doink-doink!
Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/10/10