|It's unclear whether anyone would remember if Mel Gibson ever did one of those nifty "What are you watching?" sidebars for the old TV Guide or other entertainment rags. Wouldn't matter if he did -- it's tough to get his colorful anti-Semitic drunken improvisations with police out of our heads. |
For the sake of argument, let's imagine he's a "Law & Order" man. Here's hoping one of his many kids will sit him down in front of a television this evening with some coffee and a mirror.
No, forget the mirror. Watching doughy-jowled Chevy Chase greet Milena Govich's Det. Nina Cassady with "Screw you, sugar tits!" is enough of a horrifying reflection in itself. No guy wants to be thinly fictionalized by a gray-haired has-been comedian who used to get laughs as a land shark. The image must sting so much more for a one-time action star and sex symbol who's lost the general public's respect.
Through the "Law & Order" looking glass, Gibson is transformed into Mitch Carroll (Chase), a washed-up former TV star pulled over for erratic driving. Stumbling out of his car, the arresting officers notice he's covered in someone else's blood.
But just you wait! Back at the station, upon getting a load of Cassady -- whom he mistakenly thinks to be Jewish -- he rips into a rant about Jew cops, Jew lawyers and other paranoid lunacy. "They suck the money out of this town -- they send it to Israel so they can make bombs and matzo!"
The title of this episode is "In Vino Veritas." Loosely translated from Latin, that's "In wine, truth." In wine, sleepiness as well, a fact you won't find in that old saying, but one we're reminded of while watching this episode.
The ripped-from-the-headlines celebrity tale is a "Law & Order" sweeps standard, as most seasoned potatoes already know. The death of Princess Di, Michael Jackson's baby dangling and more have been fictionalized by executive producer Dick Wolf and his writing factory in a few of the show's 17 seasons. Usually these episodes are worth looking forward to. Not so here.
What's perfect medicine for an actor experiencing an apocalypse of the soul could never be a quick cure for what's ailing NBC's once formidable series.
Regarding the Gibson-inspired episode, survivors of his overwhelmingly public fall from ... well, something other than grace -- he kicked that to the curb years ago -- could sail right through this hour unaffected. Carroll isn't saying anything that hasn't been associated with Gibson's views already. Chase's awkward stab at drama makes Carroll look a touch more unstable, though, if you can believe that.
In the final analysis, nothing's particularly spicy or alarming here, and that speaks to a larger problem. Stripped of this celebrity news story stunt, the show can't hide its fatigue anymore.
Tonight's episode is boring. But we're talking about "Law & Order's" current season here; what did you expect?
Stuck at 10 o'clock on Fridays, "Law & Order" averages around 10 million viewers in the season-to-date ratings, according to Nielsen. Compare that to two years ago, when almost 13 million were locked in every week. There was a time not long ago that Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) and detectives Cassady and Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) would have crushed the geeks on CBS's "Numb3rs." Now the CBS show is handily beating it and, in the 18-to-49 demographic so important to advertisers, "Law & Order" brought up the rear last week.
A difficult time slot isn't even the main problem. It's that this season, the "Law & Order" flagship series feels like an overcooked meal. The spice is used up, the meat's leathery. A fork won't even penetrate the crust on this sucker; better bring out the tongs.
Next to Alana De La Garza as the series' latest assistant district attorney, Connie Rubirosa, Sam Waterston, good old executive A.D.A. Jack McCoy, looks like he needs a nap. So does Fred Dalton Thompson's District Attorney Arthur Branch. Unexpected twists and surprises? Saved for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." There's very little here that you don't already see coming. Aside from Carroll's drunken outbursts in the interrogation room and some obvious legal chicanery from his yarmulke-wearing lawyer, which is a little too thick to believe, the whole enterprise feels stilted and forced.
What happened here? There was a time when simply hearing that signature "GA-GUNG" at 10 o'clock on Wednesdays was enough to activate some magical magnet in your butt cheeks, keeping your bum stuck to couch for an hour.
Not now. "Law & Order" began to show frayed edges last year, so NBC bumped it to Fridays to give "Kidnapped" its best shot.
When that tanked, did they move "Law & Order" back to its home? Nope. "Medium's" taking it over instead. "Kidnapped" continued to fail on Saturdays and got booted to an online purgatory, and NBC went with repeats of "Criminal Intent" to keep the lights on over the weekend.
That's not the least bit surprising. Even the problematic "Criminal Intent" manages to be distinctive enough to maintain a core viewership. Over on the Crime Broadcasting System, "Criminal Minds," "Cold Case" and even once-dreary "CSI: NY" can all be relied upon to excite.
You miss "Law & Order," and it's no big deal. Everyone knows you can catch old episodes on TNT. And that proliferation of the same old-same old could stop executive producer Wolf from meeting his goal of seeing "Law & Order" beating "Gunsmoke's" 20-year record.
Granted, episodes still repeat well, 20 is only three seasons away, and the franchise remains lucrative. Last spring Wolf pointed out that his series generated $1 billion in advertising revenue in 2005. That ain't toothpicks.
To paraphrase a line from tonight's episode, sometimes you blame the apple, sometimes you blame the tree. If "Law & Order's" boughs are looking so leafless that Chase's portrayal of Gibson's tequila sunset can't pique our interest, NBC might want to think about breaking out the saw.