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Recommended: Law & Order Season 21 on NBC and Peacock

The show that launched a franchise — and reinvented the police procedural — returns.
  • Camryn Manheim, Anthony Anderson and Jeffrey Donovan in the premiere episode of Law & Order Season 21. (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
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    Law & Order Season 21 | NBC and Peacock
    Hour-Long Drama (Police procedural) | TV-14

    What's new and what's changed?

    Law & Order — wait, where’s the rest of the title? That’s it. This is the original recipe of L&O which ran for 20 seasons starting in 1990. At the time it signed off, creator Dick Wolf thought tying Gunsmoke’s longevity record was accomplishment enough. But with spinoff SVU now in its 23rd season and streaming TV having a seemingly bottomless appetite for fresh meat, it was inevitable that L&O would come back.

    Who's Involved?

    • Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston are the only returning cast members from Season 20. They’re joined by Jeffrey Donovan as Anderson’s mouthy new partner, Camryn Manheim (The Practice, Stumptown) as their boss and Hugh Dancy (The Path, Hannibal) and Odelya Halevi (Good Girls Revolt) as the ADAs who report to Waterston.
    • Showrunner Rick Eid adds Law & Order to his plate of Dick Wolf productions he’s in charge of, including Chicago P.D. and FBI.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    L&O’s ripped-from-the-headlines approach is its trademark and its Achilles heel, and the first episode of this reboot shows why. A thinly-disguised version of Bill Cosby, sprung from prison on a technicality, is gunned down before the opening credits. The episode depends on the public’s knowledge of and distaste for Cosby’s sex crimes — but it must also, at some point, stand on its own as a gripping tale of investigation and prosecution per the Wolf formula. But it never quite makes that pivot, and it doesn’t help that the writing has all the subtlety of a cab ride down Ninth Avenue.

    Still, despite these shortcomings it’s a tidy hour with just enough strong performances and compelling scenes to keep things moving. The cops side of the hour is stronger than the courts side. Manheim effortlessly fills S. Epatha Merkerson’s shoes and Waterston’s Solomonic musings from the padded comfort of the D.A.’s office are always a pleasure. And a brusque argument between two partners — one white, one Black — on how law enforcers’ jobs have changed in recent years (i.e., when this show was off the air) is the episode’s sole triumph, merging actual hot-button issues with the personalities of the characters on screen. More of those and this old relic may appeal to more than just classic TV collectors.

    Pairs well with

    • Line of Duty (Hulu, BritBox, Prime Video, AMC+) is temperamentally the opposite of L&O — the focus is on dirty cops rather than heroic ones who always get their man or woman — but it’s a good chaser after you’ve had too much copaganda.
    • Boston Legal (Hulu, IMDb TV) is another corny courtroom drama that’s elevated by its personalities, and its old episodes are surprisingly watchable.

  • Law & Order (Season 21)
    Premieres Feb 24 at 8:00 PM PT on NBC. Streams the next day on Peacock.
    Created by: Dick Wolf.
    Starring: Sam Waterston, Anthony Anderson, Jeffrey Donovan, Hugh Dancy, Camryn Manheim, and Odelya Halevi.
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    TOPICS: Law & Order, NBC, Peacock, Anthony Anderson, Camryn Manheim, Dick Wolf, Hugh Dancy, Jeffrey Donovan, Odelya Halevi, Sam Waterston