For a couple of holiday seasons now, the one Christmas gift I’ve been wishing someone in my extended household would get me (but hasn’t yet) is the complete DVD compilation of Law & Order, the original franchise series.
Besides tying Gunsmoke for the record, longest-running TV series of all time, I think it is noteworthy because it was the perfectly-crafted, INTJ-targeted television show.
But, if I couldn’t have the whole series on DVD, then I’d have to pick the sequence of years when Jerry Orbach (detective Lennie Briscoe) was paired, first with Benjamin Bratt (det. Ray Curtis) and then with Jesse L. Martin (det. Ed Green).
I consider those the “Golden Years” of Law & Order.
Orbach, who was an accomplished theater performer and movie actor before he had a second career with Law & Order on TV, is the image of a committed-but-caring, wise-cracking-but-serious-about-getting-the-bad-guys, New York City detective – even if his portrayal bordered on farcical at times.
But, it is just that farce that helps make the show so weirdly enjoyable, for me.
Let me give you three brief scenes.
Nearly every show started with the initial crime, breaking for commercial just after the detectives briefly arrive on scene. Invariably, Lennie would crack a wise one.
First scene, case in point:
Lennie’s partner, referring to a dead woman found in a hospital clinic: “She comes in for a biopsy and manages to get killed.”
Lennie: “I guess that’s why they call it managed care.”
A frequent foil for Lennie and his partners was the medical examiner Elizabeth Rodgers (wickedly, expertly played by Leslie Hendrix). Here’s one of their exchanges.
They are talking in the medical examiner’s lab, nearby a victim on which the ME has been performing an autopsy. The wall phone rings and the ME answers it and listens. Then:
Med examiner: “Phone for you, detective.”
Detective, as he reaches for the phone and then suddenly pulls his hand back: “Is that brains?”
ME, pausing as she looks at her hand and then the phone that she’s still holding: “Egg salad, I think…”
Detective: “I’ll use the other phone.”
Finally, third scene – one of my all-time classics, with the dialog speed of a 30 Rock scene, again in the ME’s lab:
Lennie: “When can we get the final report, doc?”
ME: “Look, I’m busy. I got a body in the next room waiting to have a javelin removed from the chest.”
Lennie, dryly: “So… what made a nice girl like you get into this line of work?”
ME: “Free javelins.”
I know, I know – you probably saw that one coming.
In fact, I have no doubt that the appeal of the show was that most viewers thrived on that “I see it coming” element of the Law & Order plots. A formula show, yes – the ultimate one, given its longevity and the fact that it still lives on, with differently titles variants, like Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit.
There’s always next Christmas.