Anyone who has ever watched NBC's long-running workhorse Law & Order is about to encounter one of those rare instances in which TV people were both lucky and smart. Lucky, in that the decision to save the show for post-football use now makes it available for post-writer use. And smart, in that the show has gone through yet another of its periodic recastings — and after a decade of boneheaded mistakes, it finally got the casting right.
Though declining ratings caused NBC to flirt with canceling Law & Order, the format has never been the show's problem: It's a bit worn, but there's clearly life left in this familiar storytelling style. The problem since 2001, with the arrival first of Elisabeth Rohm and then Fred Thompson, was that the format was burdened with actors who were not up to the tasks assigned.
Happily, all the replacements here are as good as or better than the people they've replaced. Jeremy Sisto and Linus Roache make incredibly strong first impressions, and moving Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy into the district attorney's office last occupied by Thompson's Arthur Branch means the position is finally being filled again by someone who has some idea what to do in front of a TV camera. Whatever one may think of Thompson as a politician, as an actor he was vacant and lazy, a dead hole in every scene he entered.
The effect of the change is remarkable. With the drags removed from the proceedings, the show can move again. You can almost feel it shaking itself free.
Where Sisto's Lupo is quiet and brooding, Roache's ADA Mike Cutter is all humorously prickly aggression. That sets up a great relationship with McCoy, who is not opposed to bending rules but expects it to be done cleverly.
Though tonight's first case, a ripped-from-an-old-headline twist on "Dr. Death," is fine, the second is more interesting because it wanders further outside the Law & Order comfort zone. Built around an ugly kidnapping, it features a grittier look and tougher police work than usual.
Odds are you'll notice the shift in energy, tone and talent, but if you don't, the show will point them out to you.
Walking into McCoy's new digs, Cutter says, "Branch used to fill these shelves with knickknacks and awards."
"It's a working office now," McCoy responds, "not a showroom."
It's a better show for it.source