Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Law & Order, s2 (1991-1992)

If the first season of Law & Order was a little better than I expected, the second season was a little worse. I'm sure part of it is that these episodes are so well-worn now, replayed over and over in the earliest flush that dominated the rerun circuit for many years—the way I've seen most of Law & Order. They are still working to make the pieces fit in the second season. In the first episode, Max Greevey (George Dzundza) is summarily assassinated and it's hello to Phil Cerreta (Paul Sorvino) as the new partner for Mike Logan (Chris Noth). It's also hello to Dr. Elizabeth Olivet (Carolyn McCormick), who works with Logan on his grief issues and then sticks around for another 86 episodes as the resident forensic psychology consultant. There's still a lot of churn going on, casting adjustments and other trial and error shots (prosecutors Ben Stone and Paul Robinette have a vicious tennis rivalry in one episode), but the main departure from what I expected is that the themes have shifted from the explosively topical and more into clockwork studies of the procedures, especially on the legal side. Intricacies of plea bargaining and other deal-making to work the system to mutual advantages (among at least prosecutors, defendants, victims, and the press) are often on display in the episodes of this season. For the district attorney's office, the defense attorneys, and often the criminals too, the wheeling and dealing is all part of business as usual.

Again, using New York on location as the setting is pitch-perfect—so much rich character from so many different directions. Also again—and true for most of the run of the series—the incidental casting can make for entertaining rounds of face spotting, as you never know who will show up. Some people I saw (all making good): Lewis Black as a pornographer, Allison Janney, Jerry Orbach as a defense attorney, Sam Rockwell, and Eli Wallach. Both of George Costanza's parents show up, in separate episodes (Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris). Other parts of the formula are starting to lock in. The blackout-like sequence before the titles, usually the reveal of a crime, usually ending on a snappy hard-bitten line, e.g., "Education. It's a wonderful thing." Cragen (Dann Florek), who supervises the detectives, gets lots of great lines too. Or the ritual arrest and reading of the rights at the midway point, followed by an arraignment after the break. The plots are starting to get more twisty. You're not always sure where a case is headed, or what crime the trial will end up being about, as investigations develop. They're already unafraid to go to some wild places. The topicality may be toned down, but it's still there, if not yet as crisp and sharp as it will become—or was, in the first season. The show is still in a process of becoming in this season, and has a ways to go. It's still solid TV with its ultimate strengths already self-evident: classic police procedural extending the form by wedding it to its natural mate, the courtroom drama. This season includes the first episode I ever happened to see, or the last 20 minutes of it (I had tuned in way late, flipping around the channels). It's about a serial killer (creepy James Rebhorn), with Barbara Barrie, Allen Garfield, and an outstanding performance by Rutanya Alda (The Deer Hunter, Mommie Dearest). The plot is a bit convoluted, I can see now, but with a typically riveting way of plodding forward. Strewn with great lines, as they all are. Ben Stone: "He wants a slap on the wrist." Adam Schiff (Steven Hill, yet another of the show's trademark players): "So start slapping."

No comments:

Post a Comment