Feb 09

Law & Order: OK

FT5 comments • 353 views

Last night saw the first episode of Law & Order:UK, a British version of a US television programme! I couldn’t remember this sort of cross-ocean event ever having happened before in the history of entertainment so your intrepid telly reporter here thought she’d give it a whirl. Plus it had Martha from Doctor Who in it.

The basic premise of the Law & Order franchise is that you the viewer get to see two consecutive phases of the story – the crime doesn’t just have to be solved, it must be successfully prosecuted too! The first half of the action has the police doing their investigation, then it switches to the offices of the Crown Prosecution Service, and neatly ends with the judge banging his gavel and tickertape falling from the ceiling. Sort of.

But the tenuous similarities to Nintendo’s Phoenix Wright DS series don’t stop there! Fans of PW will be heartened to know that Freema Agyeman takes on the Maya Fey role, contributing lots of enthusiasm, moralising and magically conjuring up from nowhere a piece of incriminating evidence that will GET THE BADDIE. Bradley Walsh is adopts the character of Detective Gumshoe – the hapless cop who can’t do his own tie up – and there’s even an evil defence lawyer who will stop at nothing to win.

Sadly, Law & Order:UK suffers from the fact that the UK legal system isn’t very exciting. I’m sure they could embellish it a bit for dramatic effect? In Phoenix Wright for example, trials are only allowed to be three days long and you are guilty until proven innocent! If you spend all your time umming and aahing about aiming for a conviction but with a lower sentence blah blah blah, there’s no real opportunity for the defendant to reveal that he is actually the prosecutor’s long lost brother who lost his memory when he witnessed their father being murdered by their goldfish fourteen years ago etc.

The makers have kept the choppy directing style (and the black-background scene captions) from the US version – my viewing companion stated that the juddery camerawork was making him feel rather nauseous (admittedly he had just recovered from a bout of gastroenteritis) but I thought this rather suited the haphazard narrative and snappy script.

However the main thing that bothered me was this: being a Londoner that travels through Kings Cross most days, having Walsh and his copper chum wandering up Pentonville Road bemoaning the loss of community spirit through luxury flat redevelopments seemed downright WEIRD (and 18 months out of date). I’m sure CSI would seem weird too if I lived in Las Vegas, but the balance of fiction and well-trodden reality needs careful attention if you’re trying to do a serious drama. It’s a bit different if the familiar national monument is being used as a backdrop for Captain Jack defeating aliens with a pair of Y-fronts and an egg whisk. That’s patriotism, you see. L&O:UK is more likely to irritate Londoners and (I expect) fail to engage the rest of the country at all.

Also, I swear at one point they were walking past Cumming Street WITHOUT LAUGHING which everyone knows is impossible. I don’t think I’ll bother watching next week’s episode.


  1. 1
    Mark M on 24 Feb 2009 #

    I lasted minutes with this because I couldn’t deal with Walsh and Bamber, but my view was it would always founder on the difference between the essentially low-profile, bureaucratic CPS and the NY County District Attorney’s office, led by an elected DA.*

    Can I take the opportunity to state it has always been my belief that the title sequence of the original show (and now the British version) makes a basic mistake: surely Order is the cops and Law the prosecutors?

    *The real NY DA is the 89-year-old Robert M Morgenthau, who has been in the job since 1975.

  2. 2
    Simon on 25 Feb 2009 #

    “a British version of a US television programme!”

    Britain’s Next Top Model! (and Britain’s Got Talent)

  3. 3
    Tracer Hand on 25 Feb 2009 #

    first the larder, then the slaw

  4. 4
    Nitsuh on 25 Feb 2009 #

    — “surely Order is the cops and Law the prosecutors”

    I’ve always been mildly bothered by this, but it made me feel better — and hopefully will make you feel better — to think about it in idiomatic terms, like, say, “long arm of the law” and “order in the court” … I don’t know about the UK, but the US definitely has that idiomatic sense of cops as “the law”

    Classic-style L&O had a pretty clear Morgenthau stand-in as the DA (and haha also, later, a real-life elected official)

  5. 5
    David Belbin on 26 Feb 2009 #

    L and O is all plot and bugger all characterisation making it good TV to dip into if you’re away from home but not worth recording in a world where The Shield and The Wire are on TV. I watched the first ep out of curiosity last night and thought it was efficient TV. The problem I had was with Walsh, whose mugging grin worked fine in Coronation Street but looked wholly inappropriate when he couldn’t wipe it off his face in the more serious scenes. Rather a waste of Harriet Walter, too.

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