These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Crowning Moment of Funny: In "Corruption", where Jamie Ross and a few other detectives investigate a cop's locker, Jamie finds a lingerie catalog, and correctly deduces that a certain code on the catalog means that the cop has ordered from the company multiple times. When the detective suspiciously remarks that Jamie knows so much about the catalog, she points to a certain page - presumably with a scantily dressed model - and says, "I'm wearing this right now." Cue detective's shocked expression.
Executive Meddling: NBC forced Dick Wolf to add female characters to the cast, or else they'd cancel the show. As a result, since the show's construction only allowed for six characters (In much the same way that Criminal Intent only allowed for four and SVU allowed for eight or more), Wolf was forced to fire Dann Florek (Cragen) and Richard Brooks (Robinette). As a result Michael Moriarty eventually went on a diatribe about how the show was becoming more and more homogenised and quit (or was fired, depending on the account). Some fans might argue these changes were for the better (see: Hello Attorney) and others might argue that Law and Order was at its best when it was all-male, or Olivet was the only woman.
Van Buren lampshades this eventually, telling Claire that she could see Lennie's expression on his face right after she first joined the precinct, that she wasn't what he expected.
There is a small group that insists the last episode actually ended with Anita van Buren's phone ringing. This brings it more in line with the rest of the series.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: In the episode "Shangri-La", a teacher is murdered. During a interview with the collective faculty, one of the teachers says that it was likely done by a student. When the detectives ask him about it, he replies "You don't see many headlines about faculty out on shooting sprees." The show's final episode is about a teacher who does just that.
In Second Opinion (ep. 5-1), which featured a fake breast cancer cure Van Buren tells the detectives if she got incurable (breast) cancer she'd rather spend her last days with a whole body and surrounded by family rather then working. Years later she gets diagnosed with cervical cancer and works through it the whole time; fortunately it's in remission.
Genius Bonus: A 2002 episode involves a murdered high school teacher and a student who as we discovered was actually a woman in her mid-20s only pretending to be a high school student and claiming never to be able to age. What was the episode's title? "Shangri-La", which is the name of a fictional utopia where the inhabitants never grow old.
Harsher in Hindsight: Following a court's ruling that evidence obtained by the Tokyo police is admissible, the defense lawyer says, "What's next, drag a suspect across the nearest border and beat a confession out of him?" In 1995, unthinkable. In 2005, official US policy.
Both “Animal Instincts” and the later episode “Patsy” involved a woman with erotomania who kills the lover of the man she's obsessed with. While both episodes involved the man being initially suspected Patsy focused years down the line where the man had become Properly Paranoid after years of being stalked and accused of a crime he didn’t commit.
Magnificent Bastard: Many. Philip Swann from Season 4's "American Dream" and recurring character Governor Don Shalvoy immediately come to mind.
Magnificent/Manipulative Bitch: Expy- The plot of expy-Mary Sue Hubbardnote of Scientology (in)famy) to sink her abusive con-man husband and get all his money. It did wind up killing six innocent people, including a child, but it worked: he's stuck in prison for six life sentences and no one can prove she actually meant to kill anyone.
Subverted by Kevin Smith, who asked to play a guy who was just one more person the detectives had to talk to before they found the killer.
Also now played with by the fact that many smaller parts are played by actors who, much later, became famous.
Never Live It Down: A running gag of the last decade of the show has been other prosecutors bringing up how McCoy once purposely hid a witness in a murder case from the defense team. This, plus the subsequent ethics compliant and trip before the Bar (from which McCoy was ultimately cleared of all wrong doing) has been used against Jack whenever he complains about his subordinate's bending to the point of breaking the rules of law for the pursuit of justice.
And more often than not McCoy would counter with "And I'm the one telling you this is a bad idea. That should tell you something!"
He also twice instigated 'fake trials'. In one, the defendant was in on it (the goal was to suss out a corrupt member of the prosecutor's office), but in the other the defendant wasn't and the whole thing was a ploy to allow McCoy to suborn perjury which would induce the defendant to confess. McCoy was later removed from the case for that event. Oh, and the judge's superior threw out the case. The defendant was released and subsequently murdered by his co-conspirators. Oops.
Another time, McCoy hid evidence from the defense that could have seemed exculpatory but he didn't think was technically relevant (he was arguing that a certain person was mentally unable to consent to commit a crime, and the evidence was the defendant's motive). The judge disagreed and ordered the evidence admitted (see: episode 5, season 6, 'Competence'). The next season, one of McCoy's former assistants was found to have hidden evidence and accidentally sent the wrong man to prison. Her defense was that McCoy did it too. McCoy's look when Kincaid told him that she'd have to tell the Bar Association that he suppressed evidence in the first case is a Tear Jerker. (See episode 6, season 12, 'Trophy').
McCoy also once attempted to have a woman sterilized; she had Munchausen's Syndrome and was murdering her babies. The judge threw this out.note Though it was clear that was McCoy's goal: Adam Schiff ordered him to make a deal, so he threw in the sterilization as an intentional deal breaker. Much later, Cutter cited this case when Jack objected to him trying to enjoin a family from having their severely-disabled daughter go through a medical procedure that would remove her legs and reproductive organs (to make it easier to care for her).
McCoy's prosecution is Season 10's "Gunshow" takes the cake: it's a Murder By Proxy case where he goes after gun manufacturers for depraved indifference homicide after they neglected to make their semiautomatic pistols less prone to tampering in order to capitalize on profits. (This had resulted in one boy tampering with a pistol to make it fire four times as many bullets in under a minute, and allowed him to gun down 15 women in Central Park). McCoy actually wins; however, the judge (William Wright, who has a grudge on him) throws it out because he believed that the jury had not considered the law properly, and he chastises McCoy for trying to rewrite social policy in the courtroom. This is referenced numerous times, notably in Season 18 when one lawyer criticizes him for being too liberal and persecuting conservatives.
And, of course, McCoy sleeping with his assistants. He stops after Claire dies, and decides that he doesn't want to hurt his assistants by getting intimate with them. Of course, this doesn't stop many characters from drawing conclusions. In "Exiled: A Law and Order Movie", Det. Logan asks him if he's got another hot assistant, to which he replies, "You just have a knack for pissing people off, don't you?"
This was invoked when Cutter's feelings for Connie were outright stated in a Season 20 episode; Cutter says, "Who would put their assistant in a difficult place by sleeping with her?" to which McCoy replies, "you mean, besides me?"
Also, "Sundays In The Park With Jorge". It's the only episode in twenty years to be pulled from rotation and made Dick Wolf and company look Hispanophobic.
Replacement Scrappy: Several in-universe examples. It becomes something of a tradition, when one detective is replaced, for his former partner to regard his replacement with suspicion or outright hostility for the first few episodes.
In Real Life, the defining examples are: Nora Lewin, who replaced the most popular DA, Adam Schiff, and was seen as wishy-washy even In-Universe; Serena Southerlyn, without question the least popular ADA, who followed the polarizing but far more memorable Abbie Carmichael; Michael Cutter, who had the unenviable task of succeeding Jack McCoy in the EADA's chair (although McCoy was still on the show, so the impact was lessened); and, definitively, Joe Fontana, who replaced arguably the show's most beloved character, Lennie Briscoe.
Although McCoy never fell into this with most fans and the critics, there is a section of the fandom that are adamant about Ben Stone being the superior EADA.
One example is an episode about a mass shooting, which turns into a case about after-market gun add-ons which make them full-auto. It's a rare look at a different element of gun rights, albeit done hamfistedly by virtually absolving a mass shooter of fifteen murders, despite quite literally being caught with the smoking gun and confessing on arrest, and scarcely addressing the violations of the 1934 National Firearms Act by converting a firearm to full-auto.
Squick: 20 year old guy to his 60 year old girlfriend, after learning she'd had a "vagina lift": (basically) "But I love you because of how you are!" The reason he's into May December Romances is also fairly squicky.
Special Effects Failure: The otherwise deadly serious "A Death In The Family" (ep 1-13) begins with an unlucky perpetrator falling to his doom, and -just out of camera range, landing on a police car. At his scream and impact sound, the camera sweeps back to catch a none-too-convincing dummy on the none-too-convincingly-damaged cop car.
Unintentionally Unsympathetic: The defense attorney Danielle Melnick has a history of sacrificing her others (even her clients) for her own political agenda. In “Open Season”, she outright ignored her client's threats to innocent people despite repeated warnings, which lead to more killings. Her being shot by one of her former client's followers who mistakenly believed that she had ratted him out came across more as Laser-Guided Karma then anything else. It also doesn’t help that she never once admitted she did anything wrong to the point of giving McCoy a what the hell hero for prosecuting her.
We Could Have Avoided All This: This was done in universe in "Double Blind" if Dr. Christian Varick had done even one of the numerous required tests for the double blind study the murder would never have happened.
The Woobie: As of the current season, Lt. Van Buren and her struggle with cancer (not that she'll have any of it, mind you) What makes her worthy of woobie-dom is the fact that she's currently the longest-running member of the Law and Order cast.
Don't fret, the series' finale reveals that (after a scare caused by a scanner malfunction) that her cancer is in remission ("Thank you, thank you.").
Jack and Claire's relationship was dealt with with a very light touch, but it became the focus of an episode after Claire's death. Jack is trying a drunk driver and conspires with the judge to charge him with murder, with everyone around him stepping lightly. Finally, Jack pushes the defendant to a breakdown on the stand. Jack, in a My God, What Have I Done? moment, relents and reveals the evidence that the man was blind drunk (and earning an enemy in the judge, who had political aspirations).
Typically, the show wants you to sympathize with the victims, the Law, or the Order, but they sometimes make even the defendant a woobie. One particularly tragic story is that of a psychotic who refuses his medication, even though he gets violent. It's revealed that the side effects make it incredibly difficult for him to function, and because of his illness he wasn't able to pursue any work, let alone his dream career. He'd contemplated and pursued suicide when he realized that. He stopped taking his medication after his sister testified to that. He agrees to take a plea (strict monitoring for the rest of his life to make sure he takes his meds or stays in a hospital), and breaks down into renewed psychosis is a Tear Jerker. Everyone in the courtroom acts their little hearts out, showing dawning realization and varying degrees of regret and horror.