Law & Order: Season 3
November 10, 2005
Vern Gillum, James Frawley, Ed Sherin, Gilbert Shilton, Don Scardino, Gilbert Moses,
Starring: Chris Noth, Jerry Orbach, Michael Moriarty, Richard Brooks, Steven Hill, Dann Florek, Paul Sorvino, ,
In some respects there’d be no Law and Order without the films of Sidney Lumet—specifically the ones about police corruption and the compromises that cops and lawyers are sometimes forced to make. These themes are the foundation for Dick Wolf’s long-running TV show. Like Lumet’s police procedure movies, Law and Order takes a just-the-facts approach. We are given no to very little details about the characters’ private lives. The show also utilizes gritty, New York City locales filled with tough cops, down-on-their-luck losers and cocky lawyers. Each episode feels like an hour-long version of such Lumet films as Prince of the City (1981) or Q & A (1990).
The format of each episode adheres to the same basic formula (hey, if it ain’t broke…). The prologue has some hapless bystander discovering a dead body. Cue to the cool opening credits sequence with that catchy theme song. Then, the cops step in. They check out the crime scene, collect clues, question witnesses and potential suspects and then finally arrest someone. This is when the lawyers step in and take over the second half of the show. They prosecute and convict those responsible. The real acting pyrotechnics occur in the court room as the lawyers go head-to-head trying to sway the jury to their side with compelling evidence and testimony from experts and eyewitnesses. Sometimes they nail the guilty and sometimes they don’t. The guilty parties aren’t always punished (or sometimes not enough as they should) and that’s what gives the show its integrity. Sometimes justice doesn’t prevail but that is the system we’re stuck with.
The third season was a transition year of sorts as Paul Sorvino left partway through. His character goes undercover as a buyer of illegal weapons and is shot and killed in the resulting fallout. Enter Jerry Orbach (who was in Lumet’s Prince of the City, incidentally) as Lenny Briscoe, Logan’s (Noth) new partner. Orbach brings such a natural ease to the role that you swear he was really a cop. He has the cop lingo down cold and his character is armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s criminal low-lives. He also brings an excellent amount of charisma to the role that helps him fit seamlessly into the show. Briscoe’s first appearance has him coming out of the smoke barking orders at subordinates with what would become his trademark sarcasm. At first, Briscoe and Logan don’t exactly hit it off but as the season progresses they click and prove to be the best detective duo the show ever had.
The show’s cast is uniformly excellent. Chris Noth is the good-looking Logan: a hothead and a bit of a smart-ass. Paul Sorvino’s Cerreta is all business and the more experienced of the two. Michael Moriarty plays Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Stone as the tough lawyer who does his best to nail the guilty with Richard Brooks as his younger partner who does most of the legwork. Finally, Steven Hill is the show’s secret weapon: the cranky old D.A. who sits behind his desk and dishes out sage advice, sometimes chastising his charges to get the job done.
Law and Order is the no frills alternative to NYPD Blue which tended to dwell as much on the detectives’ personal lives as it did on the actual cases. Law and Order jettisons the interpersonal relationships in favour of also showing what happens to suspects once they go to court. This offers a more balanced view of our law enforcement and justice system that most other shows do not provide. There is something addictive about this show that sucks you in as you’re watching an episode and pretty soon you’ve watched a whole bunch of them. Season three is a good snap-shot of the show in its prime and once Jerry Orbach joined the cast it got even better.
There are eight deleted scenes for six episodes that don’t really contain anything all that memorable except for the occasional bit of business between characters.
“Jerry Orbach Tribute” is a way-too brief celebration of the late-great actor. Noth calls him “Mr. New York” while Jesse Martin reinforces just how much the people of the city loved him. Not only was he an actor’s actor but he also kept in touch with the people. Orbach also brought stability to the show that wasn’t there with George Dzundza and Paul Sorvino who often butted heads with Noth and Moriarty. Considering how important Orbach was to the success of the show it is rather disappointing the brevity of this extra.
“Jerry Orbach Profile” offers a look at the actor in his natural environment: working on the show. He talks about his first appearance on Law and Order and how Wolf brought him aboard. Orbach speaks eloquently about the show and what makes it work (including a good-natured slam of NYPD Blue). He also talks briefly about working with his various partners and their respective dynamics.