With the departure of Elisabeth Rohm, who played Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn, (I had no idea she was a lesbian, did I miss something?) and the death of former cast member Jerry Orbach, I thought it would be a good time to look back at one of my favourite series.
I was just hitting my teens when Law & Order started. It and Quantum Leap were the first “adult” shows I really liked and were allowed to stay up for. When I was in university I watched a steady stream of L&O and Simpsons re-runs.
It got to the point where my roommate Mike and I would have contests to see who could identify the Law & Order episode the quickest. Most of the time one of us had the answer before the opening credits and we never made it past the first full commercial break.
The longevity of the show has surprisingly enhanced the show. Most shows cannot sustain a cast change. Most shows fizzle out after five or six seasons. Law & Order has thrived with multiple cast changes and is still going strong in its 15th season.
While CSI and its spin-offs may get higher ratings then the L&O family there is no comparing the two.
Law & Order was groundbreaking. It essentially is two shows in one. It broke all the rules of the regular cop show. As the promos hype the stories are “ripped from the headlines.” At times L&O has gotten flack for those types of stories. I however think that is what makes the show great and keeps it fresh. The writing is bold, challenging and at times outright shocking.
I am not a fan of CSI. It’s not that I have anything against that show or the people who started it. I just can’t buy into that show. If at crime scene investigation unit could solve every case given to them with no real interviews or detective techniques, as what happens in CSI, there would be no need for real detectives.
Science is a great help to solving cases but at this point good old fashioned police work is the primary way most cases are solved. But I digress this is about Law & Order not CSI.
Dick Wolf managed to create something both unique and brilliant.
As my way of honouring his great creation I will throw out my rankings of the best characters who have been a part of the great franchise. I was tempted to come up with my favourite episodes but that could take a year or so to properly research.
I have ranked the police and assistant district attorney’s as partners. Each partnership had its own benefits. Some worked amazingly, some not so well.
Ranking number one was really tough. The top two are very close but I refuse to cop-out (pardon the pun) and call it a tie.
Det. Mike Logan (Chris Noth) – Det. Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) 1992-1995
Mike Logan is my all-time favourite character on the show. Chris Noth portrayed the driven, yet at times tortured Logan with brilliance. This partnership worked well. Logan was the fiery, easily angered cop whereas Lennie Briscoe was the wise veteran who knew when to hold Logan back and when to let him off the leash.
Det. Mike Logan (Noth) – Sgt. Phil Ceretta (Paul Sorvino) 1991-1992
If this partnership had lasted longer it would most likely have been #1 in my books. Paul Sorvino leaving the show was the first big challenge L&O faced regarding a popular character leaving. At the time I thought I would never overcome the loss of Sorvino. The episode when Ceretta got shot is still one of the most memorable TV moments in my life. Noth and Sorvino had a great connection that was only toped because of Jerry Orbach’s greatness. I’m sorry but it is still hard for me to believe he is gone.
Det. Lennie Briscoe (Orbach) – Det. Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) 1999-2004
At first I was not a fan of this pairing. It took a while for me to like Ed Green. The first season between these two did not seem to go smoothly. Orbach was still his lovable, witty self but Jesse Martin just didn’t seem to fit. Yet somewhere along the road things fell into place and this pairing slowly moved up my rankings.
Det. Lennie Briscoe (Orbach) – Det. Reynoldo Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) 1995-1999
Losing Chris Noth was a huge blow for me. I was personally upset at Noth for leaving the show. Benjamin Bratt came in and did his best. His character seemed to bring in more of his personal life then any of the other detectives. Normally I would be against this but for the most part it worked. The thing holding this pairing down is that I never felt Briscoe and Curtis connected. The humour wasn’t there. They did seem to have a friendship at the end but there was nothing outstanding about this pair.
Sgt. Max Greevey (George Dzundza) – Det. Mike Logan (Chris Noth) 1990-1991
This was the original pairing. Noth showed great promise. At times these two were great. They were both fiery and excitable. However there was no depth in Greevey’s character. This is probably more because he was only around for one season then anything to do with George Dzundza.
Det. Ed Green (Martin) – Det. Joe Fontana (Dennis Farina) 2004-Present
This pairing has not been around long enough for me to rank them. If I were they would probably slot just above the Orbach-Bratt pairing. I realize that is quick praise. I like Dennis Farina a lot. He is a great actor and has brought a fresh angle to the role. Jesse Martin has quickly adjusted to Farina. This pairing has great promise. It may one day get up to #3 in the rankings.
The top three were very hard for me to slot. To me there is a big gap between my top three and the others.
Exec. Assistant DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) – Assistant DA Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) 1994-1996
I still have a huge crush on Jill Hennessy so I may be a bit biased here. Claire and Jack were a formidable duo. They spared a lot of times and flirted even more then a few times. Claire was more then the intellectual equal to McCoy. Kincaid was able to reign in McCoy when he was about to go overboard. McCoy was able to make sure Kincaid understood that sometimes you had to play dirty. I miss Claire! Bring her back, please!!
Exec. Assistant DA Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) – Assistant DA Claire Kincaid (Hennessy) 1993-1994
Sam Waterston’s longevity and excellent portrayal of Jack McCoy have made many viewers forget about Ben Stone and Michael Moriarty. It is a shame Moriarty started to lose his marbles. Ben Stone was everything I wanted from a prosecutor; smart, passionate, driven, moral and honest. If any TV character showed me what I wanted to become had I gone to law school, it was Ben Stone. The best of Stone came out when he was around Kincaid, who provided a much needed female element to the show.
Exec. Assistant DA Ben Stone (Moriarty) – Assistant DA Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) 1990-1993
Richard Brooks is perhaps one of the most underrated actors around. Paul Robinette was a great character who had to deal with a great deal of personal challenges. The episodes where he was chastised for selling out his race were great. Robinette’s eventual return as a defence attorney was a great twist for his character. Robinette and Stone worked so well together it is hard to put them this low. At times they seemed more like partners and equals then boss and subordinate.
Exec. Assistant DA Jack McCoy (Waterston) – Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Rohm) 2001-2005
At times I have found it tough to tell the last three assistants apart. Southerlyn lasted the longest of the three and definitely had the most shocking exit of any of them. I like how she spoke out a great deal, even if it led to her firing. Waterston maintained his typical perfection during this tenure.
Exec. Assistant DA Jack McCoy (Waterston) – Assistant DA Jamie Ross (Carey Lowell) 1996-1998
Carey Lowell had the tough task of trying to replace Jill Hennessy. She did not live up to that greatness but she wasn’t awful. Lowell’s plots with her family/divorce were an interesting twist showing how demanding the DA’s office is. I liked that minor subplot. To be honest I could easily see swapping this pairing with Southerlyn-McCoy. However I think McCoy has just gotten better with age. Waterston had not hit his peak at this point in the show’s run.
Exec. Assistant DA Jack McCoy (Waterston) – Assistant DA Abbie Carmichael (Angie Harmon) 1998-2001
So isn’t this the one that is married to former NY Giants player Jason Sehorn? Yeah that is pretty much what I remember about her. By this time in the series Jack McCoy pretty much took everything over. Not that I am complaining. These were some of the best years of L&O. This wasn’t really a partnership though. Carmichael seemed like a fly on the wall at times.
Exec. Assistant DA Jack McCoy (Waterston) – Assistant DA Alexandra Borgia (Annie Parisse) 2005-Present
I have seen one episode with this pairing. To say it is too early to judge this pairing is a vast understatement.
Lieutenant Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) 1993-Present
It is very hard to compare the two police bosses. They had completely different styles and Van Buren lasted much longer then Cragen. L&O really hit its stride when Merkerson was in the show. For that reason she gets the nod.
Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) 1990-1993
Captain Cragen and Det. Logan had the best boss-cop relationship. Sadly Cragen was not around long enough to really develop. I am glad Florek was cast in L&O SVU. I do not watch that show that much but in the ones I have seen he is solid.
District Attorney Adam Schiff (Steven Hill) 1990-2000
His wise little tid-bits at the end of the show were always memorable. Schiff had some great moral dilemmas when he would be faced prosecuting a friend. These were the moments when he shone. No one will ever replace Adam Schiff.
District Attorney Arthur Branch (Fred Dalton Thompson) 2002-Present
A breath of fresh air after two years of horror, I’ll get to that later. Thompson was working as a senator when he started this role. That is pretty cool in itself. Casting him as DA tied well with America’s shift to the right politically. He does not live by the same moral code Schiff does and obviously does not have any qualms about firing people for being moral and opinionated.
District Attorney Nora Lewin (Diane Wiest) 2000-2002
By far the worst casting in the shows history. Wiest almost single-handedly annoyed me enough to give up on the show. Her character was boring. Wiest’s acting was below par for someone so respected. I am just glad her role was so small that it didn’t ruin the show.
Well that is all for now. I hope Dick Wolf keeps the show going another 20 years. I can’t wait to see what is next in store for this great series.