It's been great to see Sam Waterston back as Jack McCoy and at least moderately pleasing to see Anthony Anderson play Kevin Bernard again, but for longtime Law & Order fans, the real thrill of last month's Season 21 premiere was the surprise appearance of Carey Lowell as Jamie Ross.
As a refresher, Ross was an assistant district attorney back in seasons seven and eight, where she established herself as a shrewd legal strategist with a strong moral center. She wasn’t afraid to push back against McCoy’s shenanigans or the lecherous advances of pervy judges, and when she had to, she fought her ex-husband for custody of their daughter. In her Season 21 episode, her passion was undimmed as she fought to protect women who'd been abused by a predatory pop singer. It was a delicious bit of fan service.
Hopefully that was just the beginning. Here are six more classic Law & Order characters we'd love to see return, along with our suggestions for how they can be worked into the story:
Van Buren appeared in 17 seasons of Law & Order's original run, making her the character with the most appearances in the show. It would be an actual crime if she didn't come back for at least one more round. Plus, as a series regular on Chicago Med, Merkerson is still in the universe of projects produced by L&O creator Dick Wolf, which is to say there's probably a clause in her contract that she has to play Van Buren again.
How she comes back: After spending so much of the show fighting a racist, sexist department for the promotion she so richly deserved, Van Buren will be revealed as the Chief of Detectives. She'll run an emergency task force to stop a pair of ex-Marines who have hijacked a subway car, and when they later try to testify that they only did it because they were messed up on a prescription opioid called Restivor, she'll stop by the D.A.'s office to tell McCoy why that defense is a load of crap.
When he first started appearing as Emil Skoda, a therapist frequently hired to consult for the D.A., J.K. Simmons was just another character actor. Now he's an Oscar-winning star who frequently turns up in your favorite comic book movies and insurance commercials. By all accounts, he's also a really nice guy, which means he'd probably be down to appear on the show that pushed him toward the A-list.
How he comes back: Skoda is a prickly pear, so it won't be shocking when he's a murder suspect. He'll be accused of killing an obssessive patient who was trying to wreck his life, which will force an anguished McCoy to treat him like a criminal instead of a friend.
Hendrix started as a bit player on the mothership series, but her salty performance as Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers helped her character become a stalwart on multiple Law & Order franchises, including over 100 episodes of Criminal Intent. A return appearance on L&O would cement her transformation into a crucial member of the rep company.
How she comes back: You know how she dyed her hair blonde near the end of the mothership's original run? Well, in the new season, she'll be bald, and she'll be called as a witness against a drug company whose faulty products caused alopecia in thousands of women, including one who tried to kill the company's CEO.
Over his four years as a regular (and his one guest appearance in Season 20), Detective Reynaldo Curtis became one of Law & Order's most morally complicated characters. He was a essentially a good man, but he had multiple affairs, which compromised his marriage with his wife, who suffered from MS. It's past time we checked in with him again to see how everything's going now.
How he comes back: Bernard and his new partner Detective Frank Cosgrove (Jeffrey Donovan) work on a cold case involving a mobster whom Curtis helped put in jail. Curtis is retired now, so Bernard and Cosgrove go to his house to interview him about the guy. They not only get the information they need, but also get a peek at Curtis' life as a widower and his great relationship with his grandkids.
Along with Merkerson, Hennessy was the other full-time female cast member added to the show in season four. Unlike Merkerson, she only stuck around for three years, but at least her character, ADA Claire Kincaid, got a memorable send-off. In the finale of season six, she was killed in a car accident while she was driving Lennie Briscoe home from a bar.
How she comes back: Go with this: In real life, Jill Hennessy has a twin sister named Jacqueline, so it would be a cool meta twist to have Jill return as Carla Kincaid, twin sister to Claire. In a subplot that runs across two epsisodes, she'll get in touch with Jack, who was both Claire's boss and her lover at the time of her death. Carla will let Jack know that Claire truly loved him, and she'll give him a book of poems that Claire wrote about their relationship.
Detective Lennie Briscoe is arguably the definitive character of the entire Law & Order franchise. He's gruff, flawed, and good at his job, and his knack for morbid wisecracks is unparalleled.
How he comes back: Since Orbach is dead, producers will have to get creative. A Lennie hologram is probably too expensive, but how about a statue that sits in the squad room somewhere? Or better yet, why not reveal that several of the other cops from the older seasons pooled their money to open a gourmet hot dog stand called Lennie's? Think of all the crimes that could be solved while the detectives stand around eating hot brats with sauerkraut!
New episodes of Law & Order air on NBC Thursday nights at 8:00 PM ET, and stream the next day on Peacock and Hulu.
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Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.