|In the network television system, the people are presented with three separate yet equally self-important shows: ''Law & Order,'' ''Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,'' and ''Law & Order: Criminal Intent.'' These are my reviews (dun-dun!):|
LAW & ORDER (NBC, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.)
The twelfth season of executive producer Dick Wolf's original-recipe New York cops-and-lawyers show is off to its strongest start ever in the ratings, locking up more than 22 million viewers (thanks in part to an inflated ''West Wing'' lead-in). So does this mean I'm the only one who misses Angie Harmon's flinty ADA Abby Carmichael? Her hastily-integrated replacement, legally blonde Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Rohm), is about as believable as her name. In only a few short weeks, ''Angel'' alum Rohm has somehow managed to surpass Carey Lowell and Dianne Wiest in the ranks of the most ineffectual ''L&O'' actresses ever. But at least the first two scripts spun fresh riffs on a pair of ripped-from-the-headlines cases: the San Francisco dog-mauling imbroglio and Sen. Bob Kerrey's Vietnam-massacre scandal.
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (NBC, Fridays, 10 p.m.)
I've always defended the sex-crimes spinoff against those who have charged that it's an unworthy successor; last season, I even thought ''SVU'' was the superior show. Yet as its ratings continue to build, the series already seems to be repeating itself -- and it's only starting its third year. Despite fine guest performances from Amy Irving and Shirley Knight, the opener, about a shrink who convinces a patient to recover false memories of sexual abuse by her father, felt awfully familiar. By week two, Det. Olivia Benson (weakest link Mariska Hargitay) was being stalked by an ex-con she'd sent to prison. What is this, ''L&O'' or ''Hunter''? Plus, I'm tired of waiting for the writers to give the promising odd-couple partnership of Munch (''Homicide'' vet Richard Belzer) and Tutuola (''Cop Killer'' vet Ice-T) something -- ANYTHING -- to do.
LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT (NBC, Sundays, 10 p.m.)
The purported selling point -- that ''see through the eyes of a criminal!'' gimmick trumpeted in the Peacock's promos -- isn't the real reason to check out the uneven but intriguing ''CI.'' Rather, it's the impressive acting ensemble. Vincent D'Onofrio's mastermind Det. Robert Goren may be a bit overwritten, but just try to take your eyes off the guy (I'd watch D'Onofrio read the New York State penal code). As his partner, ''Oz'' alum Kathryn Erbe has somehow already managed to surpass Harmon and Jill Hennessy in the ranks of the most credible ''L&O'' actresses ever, and supporting actors Jamey Sheridan and Courtney B. Vance are charismatic enough to carry their own series. Now they just need consistent scripts.