Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
We all know that opening sound. Law & Order is returning for its 21st season this Thursday at 8pm after taking a dozen years off. There have been plenty of spinoffs (and even more knockoffs) to fill the gaps, but there's only one original L&O.
Dick Wolf has always known that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The police investigate the crime, and the district attorneys prosecute the defenders. It's a magical TV formula that’s tried and true, and the franchise architect has done quite well sticking to it.
Keeping it simple has led to decades of success on NBC in a variety of forms exploring the NYPD. The title and cold opening tell you exactly what's coming in each episode. No need to get fancy. Sadly, our world provides plenty of subject matter for the police and attorneys to explore.
For 20 seasons and over 450 episodes, Law & Order set the standard for a criminal procedural. DA's and detectives would come and go (except for Munch), but it rarely strayed from its formula. Now Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston return to the famous franchise. Newcomers Hugh Dancy, Camryn Manheim and Jeffrey Donovan feel like they've always been there.
Law & Order has been locked up for 12 years, but countless spinoffs have kept the franchise relevant and alive in unique ways.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
There are more SVU episodes than the original L&O. That's one heck of a spinoff. Olivia Benson and her SVU colleagues focus on crimes against those most vulnerable - children, elderly and the disabled. Many of these sex crimes are "ripped from the headlines" which keeps the show fresh season after season.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent
This deep dive into high profile cases lasted almost 200 episodes during its decade-long run. The spin was getting inside the criminal mind. The Major Case Squad investigated major crimes with high profile suspects and victims. After starting with Detectives Goren and Eaves, halfway through they rotated investigators before bringing the original duo back at the end. Solid variation on a theme.
Law & Order: Trial By Jury
Only one season of digging into the jurisprudence side of things which delved into the prosecution, defense and the jury trial itself. Jerry Orbach's death coincided with the short run of the failed spinoff and the franchise's first stumble.
Law & Order: L.A.
There's plenty of law and order in Hollywood, but this newcomer lasted only one season. Other successful three and four-letter titled shows on CBS were able to expand to different locations. For L&O, Manhattan is a key character for long-term success.
Law & Order: True Crime
NBC tried to leverage the strength of the brand to tell the story of the Menendez murders and enter the true crime game. Although the plot is right out of a L&O episode, true crime was better told on Dateline specials and later on streaming services.
Law & Order: Organized Crime
Last year's return of Stabler to the L&O family was welcomed with open arms. The SVU love carried over, but this was a different Stabler investigating mobsters and other organized crime figures. The new twist is one storyline told over multiple episodes. It is in the midst of its second season and looks like a keeper.
32 years. Over 1,200 episodes. 6 spinoffs. And now, Dick Wolf is bringing back the original to NBC. The cases will be there. Sam Waterston will be in search of justice. It will feel like it never left. And that's exactly what the audience wants.
(Really Good Shows You May Not Have Seen)
This Week's Pick:The Good Wife (PARAMOUNT+) — Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) re-enters the workforce after her States Attorney husband Peter (Chris Noth) gets locked up courtesy of a very public sex scandal. Ripped from the 2009 headlines featuring fantastic acting and wonderful writing — there are no minor characters in Cook County.
Freaks & Geeks (HULU)
Battlestar Galactica (PEACOCK)
The Split (AMAZON)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
Restless (NETFLIX) — A corrupt French cop gets threatened by a witness and doesn't handle it well. Friday.
THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
The Endgame (NBC) – Arms dealer Monica Baccarin tries to outfox FBI agent Ryan Michelle Bathe. Monday at 10pm.
Cat Burglar (NETFLIX) – Answer interactive trivia questions and make your way through this Bandersnatch-style animated comedy special. Tuesday.
Snowfall (FX) – Season five of Franklin Saint's blossoming drug dealing in mid 80's California. Wednesday at 10pm.
Vikings: Valhalla (NETFLIX) – The sequel to the History Channel hit takes place 100 years later with Leif Eriksson leading the way. Friday.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
Killing Eve (BBC AMERICA)
Sunday, February 27 at 8:00 PM ET
The fourth and final season has arrived, and it's time to end things between Eve and Villanelle. The quirkiness that made this thriller so charming has been played out. There are only so many somewhat believable twists and turns one TV program can take.
Still, Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer and Fiona Shaw will continue to shine with masterful performances. The best part of Killing Eve is its edgy sense of humor. Let's hope the script can match the level of the acting and the tension between the two leading ladies finally resolves itself.
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, February 20th 10pm
Most of us have taken an Uber, but few know how the ride-share company that changed the transportation industry came to be. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Uber founder Travis Kalanick with his usual palpable intensity. He wants what he wants, and he gets it until the board eventually decides otherwise.
Brian Koppelman and David Levien created Billions, and they're the perfect team to tell this story with over the top smart dialogue and unrelenting momentum. This is the first chapter in the Super Pumped anthology series that will explore similar corporate titans who get ahead of themselves. No shortage of material there.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.
TOPICS: Law & Order, NBC, Killing Eve, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Organized Crime, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber