So, I'm obviously ecstatic that Law & Order has finally begun to make its move to DVD. While the first few episodes can be a bit dry and the production values are low, it remains praiseworthy for its realism, unique storytelling, amazing writing, intense performance, and fair exploration of moral conflicts. The stories are typically influenced by real-life headlines, and maybe you'll recognize some. Contrary to the typical drama, the personal lives of the characters are peripheral rather than primary. The personal side of the characters does manifest, of course, but the scripts do not directly pursue this. They appear adjunctively to the stories, and once one grows to understand the dynamic personalities, the show attains deeper impact. It's also a bit weird to watch these episodes with all the changes in the series (now in season 13, no one remains from the original cast).
The show accomplishes much with its formula. To quote the voice intro for every episode: "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories." That's exactly what it is. The first half of the show sets the exposition of the crime and follows Sgt. Greevey and Detective Logan (George Dzundza and Chris Noth, respectively) and as they hunt down the criminal with the guidance of Captain Cragen (Dann Florek).
Once the suspect is apprehended, the show follows the prosecution of the alleged criminal at the hands of ADAs Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) and Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks). The pragmatic and politically minded DA Adam Schiff (Steven Hill) offers dry wit and candid advice. Personally, I'm a little more drawn to the prosecution side of things because it tends to be the most climactic. Here, the ADAs must administer plea bargains, prepare their cases, and of course face-off with the defendants at trial.
Cases are rarely straightforward - suspicions switch around, new evidence appears, and so on. The show also evenhandedly looks at different moral and social issues, but perhaps more so in later seasons. Some issues dealt with in the first season are abortion, assisted suicide for the terminally ill, racial equality, and others. Later seasons would explore technicalities of the New York legal system in greater detail, and diversify the legal matters explored.
Here are some cheap, quick episode descriptions - spoiler free and superficially uninteresting:
"Prescription for Death" - A young girl dies during a chaotic night in a hospital, despite the lack of a serious ailment.
"Subterranean Homeboy Blues" - The shooting of two black teenagers in a subway car leads to serious racial tensions.
"The Reaper's Helper" - It would appear that a serial killer is targeting gay men, but...
"Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die" - A young woman is found badly beaten in her bed. The prosecutors may need questionable tactics to convict their man.
"Happily Ever After" - A wealthy couple is shot in their parking garage.
"Everybody's Favorite Bagman" - A councilman is mugged, a simple crime which leads the district attorney's office to something big.
"By Hooker, By Crook" - A wealthy man is found unconscious in a park after a night with a prostitute.
"Poison Ivy" - Greevey and Logan investigate the shooting of an apparent drug dealer by a fellow police officer.
"Indifference" - A very disturbing episode where detectives look for the culprit responsible for bludgeoning an abused little girl on the skull.
"Prisoner of Love" - A sadomasochist is found murdered, and his killers are discovered to have a peculiar relationship.
"Out of the Half-Light" - A black congressman uses the alleged rape of a young girl to further his political career.
"Life Choice" - The police investigate the bombing of an abortion clinic.
"A Death in the Family" - The detectives aggressively hunt the man suspected of killing a cop.
"The Violence of Summer" - A backward episode that puts the legal stuff first and the cop stuff second. Stone and Robinette struggle to rebuild a fractured case against three boys accused of raping a reporter.
"The Torrents of Greed" - This is a two-parter, and it follows ADA Stone's obsessive drive to nail a mob boss.
"Mushrooms" - Two children are shot in their own home, and the killer is not what anyone expects.
"The Secret Sharers" - The murder of a drug dealer winds up pitting Stone against a hotshot Texas lawyer who defends the suspect pro bono.
"The Serpent's Tooth" - This one has echoes of the Menendez brothers as two boys are suspected of killing their parents.
"The Troubles" - Who killed the Lebanese weapon smuggler - a Cuban drug dealer or an accused Irish terrorist?
"Sonata for a Solo Organ" - A man is found in Central Park missing one of his kidneys.
"The Blue Wall" - Captain Cragen is under suspicion for tampering with evidence.
Anyway...assuming you're still reading along this far, now is a good time to jump into the series. Law & Order is an epochal television series that deserves all its acclaim.
What did you think of this review?
Law & Order is television's most resilient series. It has survived wholesale changes to its ensemble. One of the secrets of the show's durability: its compelling structure. The first half of each hour-long episode is classic police procedural in which "Law," personified in the first season by partners Greevey (George Dzundza--and be sure to catch the interview segment with series creator Dick Wolfe to learn how to pronounce his name) and Mike Logan (Christopher Noth, the future "Mr. Big" on Sex and the City) investigate a crime and make an arrest. The second half chronicles the ensuing trial, as prosecuted by assistant district attorneys Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) and Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) under the supervision of Steven Hill's Adam Schiff (more feisty and animated here than in later seasons).
Law & Order is also distinguished by its superb writing. Several episodes take their inspiration from the headlines, including "By Hooker, By Crook" about a ...