‘The Practice’ Season 6 review

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‘The Practice,’ ‘Law & Order’ battle in the courtroom

By JOHN HANSEN

Feb. 8, 2002

 

Considering how many law dramas there are on TV, it’s too bad the lawyers don’t cross over between shows more often. Imagine passionate defense attorney Eugene Young (Steve Harris) of “The Practice” facing off with gruff prosecutor Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) of “Law & Order.” I’d buy tickets to see that.

We won’t see that dream match-up anytime soon, but we can at least compare “The Practice” (in its sixth season) and “Law & Order” (in its 12th) on paper. Both shows are aimed at mass audiences, but they still find room to be creative. While Dick Wolf’s “L&O” is the more realistic show (featuring many “ripped-from-the-headlines” stories), it’s the characters, plot twists and almost-satirical absurdities that give David E. Kelley’s “The Practice” the slight edge.

Although Kelley’s other shows (“Boston Public” and “Ally McBeal”) have gone in the crapper, “The Practice” (9 p.m. Sunday, ABC) is still going strong. The highlight this year is an episode where Jimmy (Michael Badalucco) ignores attorney-client privilege in order to save a life. There have been some misses — Jimmy’s gambling problem and the episode with the jury refusing to render a verdict out of disgust for the lawyers — but even then the show is entertaining.

“L&O” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC) has been a bit inconsistent this season, but when it’s hitting on all cylinders it can’t be beat. Such was the case in a December episode about a race-motivated killing which worked nicely as a commentary on the dangers of hatred in the wake of Sept. 11. The writing can be cliched (some of the interrogation scenes call to mind old “Police Squad!” episodes), but the New York-style sarcasm (usually from Jerry Orbach’s Detective Briscoe) keeps the scripts crackling.

Where the two shows diverge is in the area of characters: “The Practice” has great ones, while “L&O” rarely writes with characters in mind. On “The Practice,” Dylan McDermott’s Bobby is the most likable egotist on TV, Young is always great (but vastly underused), and Badalucco perfectly portrays a lawyer with a heart of gold. “L&O’s” best characters are its best actors, namely Orbach and Waterston. McCoy’s balancing act — he’s obsessed with winning, but he also respects the rules of the game — is always fascinating.

Both shows have added new talent to the roster this year. “L&O’s” new face is Serena Sutherlyn (Elisabeth Rohm), McCoy’s new partner. Rohm was great on the character-driven “Angel,” but she’s struggled a bit on “L&O,” although a new episode where she crossed ethical lines to save a life shed some light on the character. “The Practice’s” new character, prosecutor Alan Lowe (Ron Livingston), seems to be the new antagonist: he’s so obsessed with seeing justice done that he’s crossed the ethical line on several occasions.

If you’re tuning in to learn more about the law, “L&O” is the better choice, but both shows go beyond the courtroom, exploring ethics, morals and legal oddities. “The Practice” is the deeper show in this regard, exploring the absurdities of the justice system. One of Kelley’s favorite themes is innocent people ending up behind bars because their lawyer told them to take a plea bargain. Maybe the lawyers should watch their old episodes of so they don’t repeat the same mistakes.

“The Practice” Season 6, episodes 1-11: B+

“Law & Order” Season 12, episodes 1-14: B