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May 25, 2010

Funny: Great Heeb Moments in Law & Order

Actually, I guess: Maybe this should be a thread for the completed series 24 and Lost.

I should have put up contemporaneous posts, but I don't watch either, so it didn't occur to me.

Law & Order has also been cancelled, though Dick Wolf really wants L&O to beat Bonanza for longest-running drama, and so is scrambling to get one more season on TNT. (He's tied with Bonanza right now. Or Gunsmoke. Whichever one ran the longer.) So he wants one more season just to satisfy his quest for a record that no one will care about -- hardly a recipe for creative foment should that asterisked-season occur.

I used to watch it, back when L&O was about murder and not, as it later turned into, the War in Iraq and George Bush, with murder apparently becoming so commonplace in NYC that prosecutors didn't blink at making generous deals with killers in order to get their testimony about "the real crime" behind the murder, like Gitmo, or, I'm guessing, Hurricane Katrina.

This article came into my email box from Heeb Magazine, about the "Jewyest" L&O episodes. It's kind of amusing.

Here are my Top Ten favorite L&O cliches:



1. The original DA, Adam Schiff (?), never wanted to prosecute a single frigging case, because, as he would say, "Go into court with only a signed confession and the murder weapon??!! The press'll have a field day with this! TAKE THE DEAL!!!"

This guy was no Donald Trump. He always wanted the first deal offered to him.

I don't remember him ever actually saying the evidence was solid and that they should go to trial. Ever.

He seemed singlemindedly obsessed about the press having "field days" and the office "being laughed all the way into the outer boroughs."

2. At some point in the first half hour, the cops would come to a dead end, and it would be time to visit the captain. First the white guy, and then the black woman.

And I hated these obligatory Visit-the-Captain scenes, because the Captain always said something perfectly obvious, like "reinterview the witnesses, we're missing something" or "maybe we should dig further" or "I'm thinkin' it's time we re-checked our assumptions" or "sure would be nice to have the murder weapon" -- really, really obvious crap like that.

Really, Professor Awesome? We a) get lost or b) come to a dead-end you advise we should 1) retrace our steps and 2) make a different turn along the way?

And then Brisco, who I really found annoying as hell, would raise his eyebrows slightly as he got up to leave to indicate this utterly-SOP next step hadn't occurred to him.

Oh, he never said something ridiculous like "Oh my God you're a genius!" but he definitely did raise those eyebrows to say "Hm!"

Or really "Hm," no exclamation point. He was subtly impressed.

Not totally impressed. Brisco was never really impressed by anything; he had seen it all, you know. (And would often say, "And I thought I'd seen it all.")

But as impressed as was possible for him. Just a little.

3. Brisco was annoying in his rote sarcasm. Every single "perp" he interviewed, he'd say the same basic thing to indicate his disbelief about their alibis or professions of innocence: Yeah, I'm sure you're a real solid citizen.

Or: Yeah, I'm sure you're a real humanitarian.

Or: Yeah, I guess that makes you the hero.

Or: Yeah, I'm sure you're a candidate for Mom of the Year.

Or: Yeah, I guess you were up all night hanging streamers for the 4H club mixer, though he didn't say that, really, but dumber crap like that.

He was just always to me the parody of the hard-boiled, jaded cop. For ten years he did nothing but interview an endless parade of solid citizens, humanitarians, swell guys, heroes, and moms of the year.

He'd seen it all, and he wanted you to know that. It was his only real character trait.

Plus he always looked like he just beefed.

4. Oh my God, we just spent forty five minutes investigating and prosecuting an increasingly complicated and often-arcane subject matter and obscure criminal activity related to that subject matter, but it turns out we were wrong from the start, it was really the first friggin' person we interviewed who killed the victim for the simplest and most elemental motive conceivable (either love, money, or to cover up a previous personal sort of crime).

I have to say that this plot structure is a damn good one, and I enjoyed it a lot, and I like it even still when Castle uses it every other week (and I'm not exaggerating there -- they are really riding this workhorse hard).

So this is kind of a good cliche, I guess.

Except... L&O had already done like 150 or 200 shows before I tuned out and this Old Reliable plot structure had been used like, I don't know, 75 times?

I guess later on they realized that they were going to this well too much so they figured out a new Old Reliable:

5. Oh My God, it was George Bush all along.

Enough people have written about this so I won't belabor it.

6. This guy is going to break down in the witness stand and either reveal he was guilty or offer some powerful reason for his crime that nearly justifies it or shock us with some Greater Truth about the Crime We're Not Even Allowed to Mention (see "It was George Bush all along," above), and the camera is going to hold tight on him, and give us reaction shots from the stunned (or horrified, or distraught) DAs and jurors, and we're going to play this annoying-as-balls synthesizer mood-piece for five fucking minutes as it modulates endlessly between two basic downer tones to show you how important and potent this all is, even though it really isn't and even though this happens every third episode.

If I were Jack McCoy, I'd know I was about to hit pay dirt the moment I heard that synthesized modulation. I'd say, "Hey Claire, I got this guy rattled as hell; i can tell because I just heard a D-Minor."

7. Hey, we can't tell if it was the brother or the sister, or the husband or the wife, or the man or his lover, or the parent or his child, because they're both protecting each other, so we're going to prosecute both, even though the press will have a field day with this (see above), and we're going to have some D-Minor music in the testimony as one breaks down and confesses the crime (see above), and we're going to get that conviction, but at the last possible second of the show, we're going to mention casually some overlooked evidence that suggests it was really the other one, reaction shots of the DAs as they click through at the implications of this, CUT TO BLACK and ROLL CREDITS.

Again: This was cool as balls the first twenty times they did it. Later, not so much. I eventually began calling this the "Ambiguous Smash Cut."

8. Jack McCoy spazzes out and starts spitting and shaking with righteous, Parkinsons-flavored indignation in his final six-minute question to the witness (which is never answered, and isn't meant to be answered, as it's rhetoric), delivering a tendentious, palsiated theory of the case (which is not a question at all, and thus not permitted in the not-even-pretending guise of a question, but the judges on L&O know better than to grant an objection to McCoy's spastic testimony once they hear that D-Minor (see above)), and then we're going to cut to the jury foreman delivering a verdict (or, to show you that this is a Crime Which Can't Even Be Mentioned (see above), he won't deliver a verdict, but will say "your honor, we are hopelessly deadlocked).

I never liked McCoy's stroke-acting during these completely-objectionable bouts of testifying outside of the witness box. I alway prefered Michael Moriarity's coolly polite and understated delivery. You could tell Moriarity was very serious minded without him having to spray the jury box with the Spittle of Justice.

9. The Rule of Three Times Lucky. This is a hoary old cliche that everyone uses... a classic for a reason.

Whenever you wish to demonstrate that the cops have run out of leads, and are now just randomly cold-calling people in the victim's address book, or randomly grabbing associates of the dead gang-banger, the Rule of Three Times Lucky states you have to strike out the first time ("Oh, he's dead? Died of a heart attack? I guess I don't have any questions for him") to show frustration, then strike out the second time to show futility ("Damnit, another non-working number!") and then, and only then, and always then, you hit pay dirt on the third time ("Do you remember a man called Eddie Brock? Oh, you do...?" (scrambles for a pad to begin taking notes, snaps fingers excitedly to Brisco to say "I've got a live one!")).

Again, works well, except when it happens on 150 episodes. This is also known as the Rule of Whiff, Clank, and Crack!

This Rule applies to any random search through a large number of bits of evidence, most useless, such as files in a cabinet, or cancelled checks, or journal entries, or mug shots, or messages played back from a phone.

Always the third one. Always. Check for yourself.

They really should just cut out the middleman and skip to the third message on the phone.

10. It wasn't the Muslim! See "It was George Bush all along," above.


A Better Number Ten: Oh man, I completely forgot the bad-dialog opening walk-and-talk and stumbling onto a corpse.

He's got other cliches too. Good stuff.

Bonus: I had meant to write about this one, but forgot.

Law & Order was famous, or notorious, for its "Ripped from the Headlines" episodes, where they would do a case that was exactly like a real one that was on Court TV at the moment.

Now, this would bring up some questions: Like, is this really supposed to be that other, real case, just with changed names? Or is this in an alternate universe where that other famous case didn't happen, but this very similar one did?

The show always answered this, the same way, the same unsatisfying way: that other, real case did happen; it's just that, coincidentally, a case almost exactly like it happened in Manhattan.

And they'd acknowledge that with a little allusion to the other, real case. Like, when they're doing, for all intents and purposes, the OJ Simpson Murder Trial, they acknowledge the OJ trial by saying something like, "This guy left as much blood as they found at Rockingham."

I don't know. Maybe no big deal. I just always thought it was strange that they kept having these doppleganger cases and no one ever blurted out, as would be appropriate, "Holy Fuck, do you realize how staggeringly unlikely it is that we should have a case so perfectly congruent with that other one in most details??!!"

Instead they just tossed it off with a bland and weak joke like "I guess the brothers had Menendez Family Values" or, like, if they're doing the Robert Blake case, "Keep your eye on the sparrow."

I guess in the L&O universe everything happens twice, every crime is committed initially and then a Strange Twin of that crime happens almost immediately after, so they take this in stride.

I guess that sort of makes L&O science fiction. I wonder if they'll ever do a sci-fi L&O spin-off, like Law & Order: Mars Mining Company, where they'll explore the strange Doppleganger nature of their universe.


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posted by Ace at 04:20 PM

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