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  • Featurette

Law & Order - Season 1

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 1000 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

In the criminal justice television programming system, there are two separate but equally important groups of viewers: those who can’t stand ‘cop’ shows and those who can’t get enough of ‘em. Well, there are clearly a hell of a lot more of people in the “can’t get enough” camp, because viewers got behind this landmark series in a big way and helped spawn an industry that quickly filled with clones and competitors, not to mention just as many spin-offs based around the original show itself.

What many will say makes Law & Order different from the rest is that it foregoes much of the unnecessary human drama of the key characters and focuses more on the actual investigation of the crime - the procedures, the circumstances - all presented as fact in a documentary manner, and then on to the clinical observation of the court case.

Not having caught the show myself until only a couple of years ago, I simply couldn’t believe what I had missed all this time. The weekly urging of my wife to sit and watch it with her was consistently met with flat refusal, until one night, bereft of interesting activity to keep me otherwise occupied, I sat and experienced it for the first time. Although at first the flat chat style of cutting out all of the unnecessary guff and cookie-cutter template was something which caught me off-guard, I learned to appreciate why it was done, seeing as they had so much to cram into 42 minutes of television. Suffice to say I now count myself amongst one of its devotees, and catch it whenever humanly possible. I strongly suggest you do the same.

For this review, I was going to do an elaborate “L&O Beer & Crime Weekend” review sort of thing where I watch the show and review non-stop, but when I realised that there were six DVDs for around 1000 minutes total to watch, I figured that you guys wouldn’t appreciate all the trouble I’d have to go through, what with abandoning my wife and kid for 24 hours and locking myself in the lounge with a large supply of beer, chips and mouthwash. So instead, here’s a simple breakdown of the episodes in season 1:

Disc 1
Prescription for Death
A woman with a sore throat dies in hospital of cardiac arrest, but her father (an ex-army medic) believes that something is being covered up and goes to the cops requesting they charge the doctor with murder. They can’t believe there’s anything in it, but investigations reveal much more.

Subterranean Homeboy Blues
Two black youths are shot on the subway and the suspect, a white woman, claims that she did so in self defence. The D.A.’s office fears losing this case will cause a vigilante uprising in the city.

Disc 2
The Reapers Helper
When they attempt to prosecute a man for assisted gay suicides, the D.A.’s office is placed in an unenviable position (BOOM TISH! pun fully intended, thank you very much for coming –ah ha! And another!).

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die
When a girl is found beaten and later dies, the D.A. is faced with trying to prosecute a successful, young and handsome suspect from the same privileged upper class background, fearful the jury will see him as Mr. Perfect and not find him guilty.

Happily Ever After
A wealthy couple are shot in an underground carpark, the husband later dying. A young black man, claiming he was in there just smoking crack, is the only suspect, but evidence is thin and the wife’s account of the event sounds a little too rehearsed.

Everybody’s Favourite Bagman
A councillor who is vocal about how dangerous the streets are is found unconscious and bleeding in a seedy part of town with two black kids fleeing the scene. Known as a bagman before going ‘legit’, questions are asked about what he was doing in the area in the first place late at night. This was the pilot episode to the series.

Disc 3
By Hooker, By Crook
A man is found unconscious is Central Park. He's taken a blow to his head, he's had a heart attack and for some reason his underwear is on backwards. Ruling out that he was in hurry that morning and got dressed wrong like we sometimes do, they uncover a prostitution racket leading to the high and mighty, who simply must be made to pay, those bastards!

Poison Ivy
A black kid is shot dead by a white policeman. Greevey thinks the cop shot the kid and later placed the gun in the kid's hand to justify 'self-defence'. This stirs up both the force who can't believe one of their own is being hounded by Greevey and Logan and the black community sick of the injustice from the white man oppressor.

Indifference
In an upsetting episode for those with kids, a young child is rushed to hospital suffering head injuries found to have been caused by abusive parents. Problems arise when the investigation uncovers more than just a parent hitting a kid, with sexual abuse, drug use and mental problems clouding things.

Prisoner of Love
Greevey and Logan investigate the death of an artist of dubious talent whose choice in medium is human bondage performance art. Greevey is sickened by what he sees, which offends his Catholic sensibilities, and asks to be taken off the case, which is rejected. They unravel links to City Officials, financial rorts and the involvement of the city elite in sexually perverse activity which puts heat on everyone. Too much ‘heat’ is probably what got them in this trouble in the first place, but then the rich are better than you and I, aren’t they, and they can get up to all sorts of perverted deviant stuff if they feel like spending their hard earned money on hamsters.

Disc 4
Out of the Halflight
A black woman is found beaten, possibly raped. When asked who did it, she scrawls on a piece of paper the two magical words guaranteed to inflame violent unrest in America – “Madonna Acting”, sorry, it was really “white cops”. A politician with black activist leanings and dreams of glory becomes involved for his own private agenda, and the situation blows out dramatically, with public backlash backing the D.A.'s office into an increasingly desperate corner.

Life Choice
Greevey and Logan investigate the bombing of an abortion clinic, a difference of opinion between them making things difficult and causing tempers to flare in an already volatile situation. As they uncover a conspiracy involved in the bombing and take it to court, the jury are reminded that it is a legal issue that they are trying to determine, not a moral one, a theme which runs throughout this show.

Death in the Family
A cop shot dead, a traumatised partner, the suspect missing -yet things don't quite add up for Greevey, who smells something rotten in the police department, and it’s not his sweaty underwear.

The Violence of Summer
A journalist is raped by three teenagers, but her recollection of events and her questionable past lead everyone to believe that she might not be telling the whole story. Based on the evidence, the D.A. can't build a solid case, so they call Greevey and Logan in to re-investigate and turn up new information.

Disc 5
The Torrents of Greed. Part 1
The near fatal bashing of a grocery store owner leads to the uncovering of a cigarette tax fraud scam run by the mob, those no good, dago wop bastards. While the investigation is simple enough in uncovering this scheme, it's when Stone gets a little too eager and greedy to see the mob dominoes fall all the way to the top that he makes a critical strategic mistake which jeopardises the case.

The Torrents of Greed. Part 2
After the hearing debacle of the Part 1, Stone is determined to go after the mob again and make sure they don't get away with their manipulation of the justice system. But what he finds when he begins to build a case against them is that the mob takes care of itself much quicker than the system ever could.

Mushrooms
An 11 month old baby is killed and his older brother is made a paraplegic when someone fires a machine gun into their apartment. Unable to link the crime to the injured boy, even though drugs seem like the obvious angle, Greevey and Logan keep coming up empty until a real estate deal gone wrong is linked to the case. Some dramatic scenes with Greevey and a heartbreaking opening make for a strong episode.

Disc 6
The Serpents Tooth
A kid returns home to find his parents shot dead with their own weapon. The kid and his older brother are the prime suspects, but the investigation shows that things aren’t always as obvious as they first seem.

The Troubles
Three prisoners are being transported and upon arrival one is found dead. With only two suspects the case is to figure out which one did it and why, but the Feds become involved to cover their arses and put up roadblocks at every turn.

Sonata for Solo Organ
A man is found mugged and while getting checked out in hospital he is informed that his kidney has been stolen. You see, those urban legends are true! Let this be a lesson to always keep your valuable organs in your wallet. Naturally, it’s up to Greevey and Logan to find out “Who, How and Why”.

The Blue Wall
Case evidence is tampered with in a big trial and Cragen is implicated. Desperate, he asks Greevey and Logan for help in digging up the truth, but it proves harder than they thought.

  Video
Contract

Shot for television and presented here as the intended 4:3 image, Law & Order was shot on film for a deliberately gritty look. The picture isn’t going to win any awards from people who want something nice, clean and smooth to look at. Deliberately shot to create an edgy documentary style, it’s grainy, slightly washed out colourwise, and the print has its fair share of specks and scratches, nicks etc. For television, for the age, and for the intended style, it looks the business, with just the minor aliasing and some moiring caused by the fine weave of some suits being the only really noteworthy distraction that aren’t actually intended.

  Audio
Contract

There’s very little real action in this series, there’s probably a bit of opportunity for ambience, but very little other than a good strong centre channel is realized by this Dolby surround mix. But far from being an issue or something to give rise to complaint, it really highlights the strength of the story when you couldn’t care less about whether the surrounds kicked in or not, simply because all you want it that it stays clear on dialogue, and this it does solidly.

  Extras
Contract

With about 1000 minutes of quality television to sit through, you can’t seriously be disappointed to discover that there’s only the single featurette on disc 1, can you? The Creation of Law and Order with Dick Wolf runs 14 minutes, and covers most topics related to how the show came to be (it only got picked up by NBC after being knocked back by Fox and CBS! Bet they’re regretting that now), the distinctive style and story process. It’s too brief, but serves as a good primer to the show for newcomers.

  Overall  
Contract

With tight scripting and solid acting, this series is full of topics which even today are edgy enough and topical to hook the viewer. When the next season makes its way on to DVD, you can be sure that I’ll have my hand up eagerly volunteering to review it.

If you're a fan of the show, you'll be familiar with the look and sound of the show which is faithfully reproduced here, and combined with the sheer watchability of the stories makes this a worthwhile investment.


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      And I quote...
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