Fond farewell: ‘Law & Order’ (TV review)

“Law & Order” (9 p.m. Central Monday on NBC)

On air: 1990-2010, 20 seasons

Why it was great: It ripped about one-third of its stories from the headlines. I’m not a big news-watcher — I find it depressing — but I am a big entertainment guy, so when I can be entertained and keep up with current issues by accident, that’s cool. Watching the detectives and prosecutors at work drove home the thrill and the value of doing something important with your life.

“L&O” was comfortably familiar: It used a storytelling formula, there was no ambiguity about whether a defendant committed a crime or not, and we got familiar tropes such as McCoy (and later Cutter) creatively interpreting the law in order to see justice served. Yet I can’t remember a single episode that I’d describe as predictable.

Seasonal breakdown: I could get sucked in by any episode from any season, but this current cast can’t be beat, so I’d actually rank the 20th and final season as the best.

Best character: Jack McCoy, for the reason I mentioned above, and for Sam Waterston’s portrayal. The runner-up is Lenny Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach), who perfected the art of the macabre quip when coming upon a corpse or arresting someone in an awkward situation.

Possible heirs: “L&O: Los Angeles” starts in the fall. I assume it will follow the original’s formula, only with a setting that’s cheaper to film in. And hopefully some of the New York cast will switch over.

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John Hansen's GravatarIf “Rubber Room” truly was the last episode of “Law & Order,” it went out with a good one.

McCoy’s rant against a defense attorney is a classic that sums up why we love him:

“Just how far up your ass is your head? A member of your union is threatening to shoot up a school … If your obstruction allows a massacre to happen, I will crucify you, Mr. Kralick. I will charge you with negligent homicide and after I convict you I will resign my job and represent the families of the victims in a wrongful death suit against you and the union. By the time I’m done you’ll be finished. So my advice to you is get out of my way!”

This episode also exposes the horrible treatment of good teachers by bureaucratic school districts (in New York, but that’s just a stand-in for the whole country). If teaching ever appealed to you, this episode will warn you away.

And it has a great action sequence where Lupo and Bernard storm a school to catch the bad guy; they must’ve used at least 100 extras in that sequence.

And then it wraps up on a nice personal note by resolving Van Buren’s cancer plotline (It turns out she’s OK). “L&O” always feels a little awkward when it gets away law and order, but this was a really nice scene. I especially liked the hug between Van Buren and Cutter; a week ago she was at his throat for violating her privacy (even though it was the only way he could win his case).

NBC didn’t do anything special for the final episode like a “Thanks for 20 great years” title screen at the end. Instead, they just cut into the usual “Quick, what is Detective Cyrus Lupo’s nickname” plug for the website. That’s fine; any single-screen tribute would come off as shallow after two decades.

But it also reinforced my impression that “L&O” isn’t really over. Maybe NBC knows it will turn up on TNT, so they aren’t even going to pretend that it’s over. If it doesn’t end up on TNT, it’s likely there will be an “L&O” movie with these characters in the future to bid a proper farewell.

But, as I’ve said before, “L&O” shouldn’t end, and this “last” episode provides several reasons why.

# Posted By John Hansen | 5/25/10 2:35 AM