Dan Krisch: A Day Of Judgment For 'Law And Order'
I am focusing my critical eye on a smaller screen. When people ask me why I decided to become a lawyer, if I'm feeling succinct I tell them "Law & Order." I fell in love with the venerable series in its early heyday of Ben Stone and Mike Logan. And while I never fulfilled my ambition to become a blue-suited, tough-talking ADA, "Law & Order" has entertained me ever since.
Nonetheless, as any true aficionado will tell you, not all seasons of "Law & Order" are created equal. And so, to aid anyone considering some winter Sunday binge-viewing, I offer Tale of the Tape IV: Watching Like the Wolf.
For rating purposes, I have divided the series into three eras: BLB (Before Lenny Briscoe), DLB (During Lennie Briscoe) and ALB (After Lenny Briscoe). And if you have to ask who Lenny Briscoe is, this is not the column for you. Stop reading right now and skip to Norm Pattis' latest diatribe.
I've judged each era using four different criteria. The winning era in each category gets one point, which is reflected in a cumulative score. The final score is at the end of the column.
BLB: Dann Florek, George Dzundza, Paul Sorvino, Chris Noth
DLB: Jerry Orbach (of course), Florek (for half a season), S. Epatha Merkerson, Chris Noth (for 2.5 seasons), Benjamin Bratt, Jesse L. Martin
ALB: Martin, Merkerson, Dennis Farina, Michael Imperioli, Milena Govich (mercifully, only for one season), Anthony Anderson, Jeremy Sisto
I take a backseat to no man in my admiration for Paul Sorvino—the man should've won an Oscar just for the way he sliced garlic in "Goodfellas"—but the 27th Precinct never shined so brightly as when Det. Lenny Briscoe manned a desk in its bullpen. It speaks to Orbach's brilliance as an actor that he managed an easy, bantering chemistry with three different actors as his partners: He was the cynical cool counterpoint to Noth's fiery Mike Logan; the wise-cracking father figure to Bratt's straitlaced Rey Curtis; and the occasionally ornery elder statesman to Martin's intense, corner-cutting Ed Green.
In each iteration, Orbach glided through the squad room and the streets of New York with the grace of a (sarcastic) Baryshnikov. (It was no accident that Dick Wolf chose Dennis Farina, an actor with a similar urban pedigree and mannerisms, to replace Orbach.)
Merkerson too deserves a plaudit here (although her tenure on the show spans two eras). She somehow managed to be convincing as a mother figure and as a commanding figure—sharing a plate of dumplings and offering comforting advice to Jill Hennessey one minute and breaking a suspect with the steel-under-velvet in her voice the next.