Recommended: Law & Order Season 21 on NBC and Peacock
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.
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