Admittedly, I had fallen out of love with LAW & ORDER over the years, especially since Jerry Orbach left and Dennis Farina had the unenviable task of filling in his shoes only to be filled with an even more awkward replacement of Milena Govich who was killed off at the end of last season in one of the more shocking twists the series has taken over the years.
Still the L&O flagship series has always been able to weather cast changes galore throughout its 18 years of existence, but something just seemed off the last four years (perhaps moving it from its original Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. time slot was also a factor).
That said, Season 18 of the series shakes things up considerably (with two new additions to the cast and a promotion for mainstay Sam Waterston) and it couldn’t come at a better time. NBC would like you to think of the new line-up as “young and hip,” but this does not feel like LAW & ORDER: 90210. The series is writing never let’s you forget that it hasn’t forgotten what it is and it’s back to its old “ripped from the headlines” self as it engages in ethical quandaries and multiple layered mysteries with a two-hour premiere tonight "Called Home”/”Darkness.”
While most series would spend an entire hour introducing their new characters with long, boring exposition, L&O always jumps into the thick of things when there’s a changing of the guard.
Kicking off the “Law” potion of “Called Home” is newcomer Detective Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) who returns to New York to discover his terminally ill brother dead. Was it suicide or was he assisted? Of course, Detective Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) is the one called on to the case, but when another assisted suicide pops up, Lupo is given the opportunity to join the case (without a conflict of interest) in discovering exactly what’s going on (hmmm, could they be partnered up for good, check out Hour 2).
To dig any deeper, would spoil the beauty of the series, which loves to engage in one twist and turn after another.
Manning the “Order” part of the series is new Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) paired up with returning ADA Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza). Cutter is more tech savvy than previous ADA Jack McCoy who has been promoted to D.A. and has a much bigger part that his predecessors. The two butt heads in totally different ways in the new episode – and it’s great to see McCoy on the other side of the desk.
While I never took to the Rubirosa character, she works well with Cutter which should hopefully build during the course of the season and slowly bring back the team work aspect of the series that has been sorely off-balance for the last two seasons.
In the second half of the premiere, a completely different case involves a blackout, corporate fraud, murder and all sorts of other unsavory details better left to experience as they unfold.
Again, the writing is super-sharp, the mis-directions always well orchestrated and the new cast members continue to fill in their respective shoes with confidence and comfort.
As quiet and sharp as Lupo is as a character, Sisto also brings a really intriguing mystique to him. We’re still not quite sure who he is, what type of cop he will show himself to be, but we know he’s not to be messed with, even if he seems to get the desired results from people with empathy and a few choice, calm words. And they’re working the new boy out considerably, giving him at least two big foot chases during the course of the two-hours.
Meanwhile, Roache shakes things up considerably in the A.D.A. department with his new techniques. He’s a bit of a loaded gun who, paraphrasing McCoy, likes to juggle chainsaws and it bites him in the ass on more than one occasion (and I get the feeling his palm pilot is going to be his iconic prop throughout the season). While it was always great to watch McCoy in the courtroom, it’s was also a smart move by the shows producers to expand the District Attorney role so Waterston still gets a chance to play, Roache is entertaining to watch in his own way. While his politics are still yet to be explored, his give and take with Waterston in the first two hours is worth every minute of it.
While LAW & ORDER: SVU has certainly stolen some of the original series’ thunder over the years, it’s safe to say mothership LAW & ORDER is back and better than ever. With a good chunk of episodes in the can prior to the Writer’s Strike, this may be the shot in the arm the series needs to reclaim viewership that’s defected to other series and also prove that when it comes to crime drama, nobody does it better than this Dick Wolf created franchise.