TV's legal best returns

The world is a better place because of last Thursday.  (Okay, maybe just my world.)  After 10 years, NBC finally brought Law & Order – the original flavour – back to television.

I am, unabashedly, a huge fan of the crime drama, having watched every one of its 457 episodes multiple times.  But I’m hardly alone. The series ran in syndication for years.  Plus, until its SVU spinoff took the lead, L&O was the longest-running live-action scripted series when it signed off for its final, er, finale.

For nearly two decades, it was the go-to show for up-and-coming actors to build their résumé with truly meaty characters and storylines.  There was Ellen Pompeo (before she was Meredith Grey); Samuel L. Jackson (before those “mf” snakes on that “mf” plane); Julianna Margulies (prior to becoming a Good Wife); a very young Sebastian Stan (pre-Avengers); and a teenage Claire Danes (before her So-Called Life), just to mention a few.

As for the series regulars, it’s where we first met Chris Noth – a.k.a. Mr. Big for Sex in the City fans – and Jerry Orbach – who famously put Baby in a corner.  It also made stars of Angie Harmon, Sam Waterston, S. Epatha Merkerson, Benjamin Bratt, Alana de la Garza, Jesse L. Martin, and Jeremy Sisto.

Unfortunately, most of these folks are too busy on other shows to return.  Alana de la Garza and Jeremy Sisto are busy on FBI.  S. Epatha Merkerson is on Chicago Med.  Meanwhile, Angie Harmon, Benjamin Bratt, and Jesse L. Martin are all working on movies.

But some have returned.  Sam Waterston has defied logic and at 81 years, has returned as the now Executive Assistant District Attorney.  Anthony Anderson, who wrapped up his comedy Black-ish is back on the set as Detective Bernard.

Then there’s Camryn Manheim, who actually appeared in two other roles on the show back in the 90’s and will now be the Lieutenant in charge of the squad.  And last week’s first episode involved a less idealistic A.D.A. Jamie Ross, once again played by Carey Lowell.

New to the series this season is Jeffery Donovan who fans might recognize from his years starring on Burn Notice.  I’m just hoping his role as a detective will give him the opportunity to show off his acting range.  And as the new E.A.D.A. is Hannibal star Hugh Dancy (who in a “six degrees of separation” moment is married to the aforementioned, but now grown up, Claire Danes).

The format is still the same: 30 minutes of cops and 30 minutes of lawyers.  Every scene still has more grit than polish.  And the plots – ripped from the headlines – still focus on balancing law, morality and justice.  (We could certainly use a little more moral focus these days.)

Unfortunately, the first episode also had one of the original’s biggest flaws.  L&O is still one of the “whitest” sets on television with one black and one Latinx actor in starring roles.  It would have been nice to see a broader cultural range this time around.  But we’ll give it time for that.

Perhaps another 20 seasons or so?