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Ah, Law & Order. Why all the hate? Sure, it was on about an eon past its expiration date, thanks to Dick Wolf bludgeoning every last dime out of his franchise. But I'm not sure L&O would be as well-remembered if not for its longevity. If nothing else, it's a fascinating time capsule of NYC over the past 20 crack-snorting years.
CI - Generally the least-liked of the L&O shows, and certainly the least exciting. It's Columbo again, but with fewer "one other things" and more Hannibal Lecter with a badge. Vincent D'Onofrio shines as the solider-turned-detective: a calm, thoughtful kook with a family history of mental illness, who enjoys playing up peoples' suspicions about his own 'insanity'. He's a highly complex character. Kathryn Erbe is a pill with exactly one facial expression.* Poor Jamey Sheridan rarely budged from his desk; no wonder he quit in desperation. (The Stand was a long time ago, eh?) Saddest of all was Courtney B. Vance, who only got to act in a courtroom - I think - twice. Olivia d'abo popped up a few times as a blonde Moriarty to D'Onofrio's Holmes, an idea later poached by Elementary. While d'Abo was mostly underused, she was extremely effective in her appearances, making me wonder if that Razzie was undeserved.
The retool added some new characters, and for awhile, the show improved a lot. Chris Noth came back, this time more seasoned and wiser, and was paired with his own female D'Onofrio: the smoky Annabella Sciorra, yet another unsung actress. Unfortunately, Sciorra fled back to the stage after one season, and things took a nosedive. I'm not even going to dignify some of the clowns they brought in to replace her and Noth. Let's just say that when Jeff Goldblum can't save your sorry franchise, then you need to reevaluate your reason for keeping it alive. A third retool massively changed the format, adding shaky-cam and greatly expanding D'Onofrio's personal life. This started out very promising, but the show was already exhausted by that point, and soon fell back into its old habits. No one looked like they wanted to be there. The whole production had a stink of card-punching to it. And, of course, every interesting plotline the show introduced was closed in an anticlimatic, who-gives-a-fuck manner.
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