Universal // 1994 // 1034 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // February 6th, 2006
It goes without saying that Law and Order: The Fourth Year is excellent, because all seasons of Law and Order are excellent. I say this not as a reviewing cop-out, but rather as an acknowledgement of the longevity and brilliance of one of the most outstanding shows on television.
Law and Order needs no explanation, unless it be an overly sarcastic one. Detectives Leonard W. Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Michael Logan (Chris Noth) are responsible for the "law" side of New York City, investigating all kinds of naughty behavior and occasionally clashing with their new female lieutenant, Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson). Meanwhile, on the "order" side of things, EADA Benjamin Stone (Michael Moriarty) and ADA Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) are happy to prosecute the tar out of any criminal, so long as DA Adam Schiff (Steven Hill) doesn't object. Together, both sides arrest and prosecute the tar out of all manner of badly-behaved individuals.
Law and Order: The Fourth Year contains all 22 episodes from the multiple-Emmy award-winning television drama:
A talk-show host invites the family and victims of a therapist and convicted child molester on-air, interrupted by a vengeful father exacting his revenge against the offender.
A disruptive homeless man is found beaten half to death in a back alley of a middle-class neighborhood, and suspicion falls to the local residents.
After a one-night stand with a rock star, a college student cries rape and lands the musician in jail.
Stone goes head-to-head against an ambitious black lawyer defending a serial race murder who kills colored victims.
* "Black Tie"
After a wealthy magnate dies mysteriously, the police try to investigate the death, but the roadblocks and legal barriers erected by the family thwart their efforts.
* "Pride and Joy"
A well-loved superintendent is killed during a failed burglary attempt, and suspicion of the murder falls on an unlikely suspect...the 17-year old son.
When a bomb goes off in the underground parking lot of a bank, the police find a link between a religious cult and the act of violence, which leads the prosecution to charge the spiritual leader with brainwashing his constituents.
* "American Dream"
After a skeleton is unearthed at a building site, an old case comes back to haunt Stone. With the new evidence, a brilliant man comes back looking to overturn his conviction...and take Stone on in the process.
* "Born Bad"
When a young teenager is charged with murder and prosecuted as an adult, his defense lawyer argues that his violence is a genetic predisposition from having an extra Y chromosome. The argument is a seductive one...especially for the defendant.
* "The Pursuit of Happiness"
A Russian green card bride is suspected of murdering her emotionally distant husband after he begins dropping hints of divorce, weeks before her visa would have been finalized.
* "The Golden Years"
The police discover an elderly woman dead in her apartment from extreme malnourishment. The granddaughter, who had been caring for the woman, is charged by the DA for neglectful indifference.
The son of a wealthy businessman is kidnapped and ransomed off for money. The father, a good friend of Schiff, turns to the DA's office for assistance. But once the police discover contradictory evidence about the kidnapping, the father refuses to cooperate with the authorities.
A woman stumbles into a hospital bleeding, claiming she passed out in a taxi and awoke to find her newborn baby missing. However, digging deeper into the story, the police uncover a complex private adoption scam, leaving the DA to sort out exactly who has legal rights to the missing baby.
After the police investigate a series of threatening phone calls and video tapes sent to a husband and wife, suspicion falls on a respected judge as the culprit. Unfortunately, Kincaid has a secret history with this judge and has no choice but to offer her resignation to Stone, lest it become a matter for the courts.
A 14-year old is shot dead on the street and his classmates are brought in for questioning. Things get more complicated when one of the young suspects turns out to be the son of a former police detective...and an old friend of Briscoe's.
* "Big Bang"
A letter bomb explodes and kills the estranged wife of a prominent nuclear physicist, leading the police to investigate his colleagues as possible suspects.
The day from hell...Briscoe and Logan wind up with five unrelated murders on their desk in a 24-hour period, all of which need investigating.
Investigating the murder of a star athlete's father, the police uncover large gambling debts as possible motive for the crime. However, the man's son, a famous baseball player, ends up with his fair share of suspicion from the police.
After an elderly Jewish man runs over a young black boy in Harlem, racial tensions flare in New York City, leading to racial rioting and murder.
During an investigation into a missing child from an abuse foster home, Briscoe and Logan find the child was taken by a concerned school teacher. Arrested for kidnapping, the teacher swears she was only protecting the child from future harm.
A young rising tennis star is assaulted outside the tennis court, jeopardizing her future career. Suspicion begins to fall on her friend, a rival tennis player.
* "Old Friends"
A pedestrian being struck by a truck becomes much more mysterious when the cause of death is revealed to be a bullet to the heart. When police investigate the man's place of work, they discover disturbing ties to organized crime. Stone is determined to prosecute the offenders...but how do you make a case when everyone is afraid to testify?
It is a bit ubiquitous reviewing and discussing episodes from a particular point in the Law and Order canon, as individual episodes have a way of blending into each other as a uniform presentation of quality dramatic television spanning a solid 15 years. Be it the first season or the last, the show maintains a remarkable level of consistency and sameness unparalleled by other shows; the only thing that changes occasionally is the cast.
Speaking of cast, Season Four is particularly transitional. Long-standing police lieutenant Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) joins the cast, as well as ADA Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) who sticks around for a few more years. Unfortunately, this is the last season for Michael Moriarty, who plays EADA Stone, ultimately replaced by the absurdly long-standing robot insurance salesman Sam Waterston. Though Waterston ultimately went on to personify the very essence of the Law and Order District Attorney, I always liked the lanky drawl of Moriarty and his wonderfully sarcastic application of the word "sir."
Standout episodes this season include "Sanctuary," a morally ambiguous and disturbing episode surrounding outbreaks of racial violence and rioting, and "Old Friends," Moriarty's curtain call, featuring a heartfelt and compelling performance by West Wing co-star Allison Janney as a mob-threatened witness. Like all seasons, many of the episodes in this season are torn straight from the headlines or rather, would be, if we had a wayback machine (Tanya Harding, anyone?). Whether the episodes ring true in popular culture a decade later or not, they still make for riveting television that manages to avoid the ravages of time and cliché. One could argue that there is no such thing as a "bad" Law and Order episode, and indeed, no episodes on this volume present itself as particularly problematic in my eyes. This is a solid season of material.
Audio and video presentations are mediocre, but sufficient for the material. The transfer features the distinctive muted colors and graininess that all Law and Order seasons employ, but the increased fidelity of DVD makes the effects more pronounced, as well as revealing signs of print damage and wear. Close examination of the transfer also reveals line jaggedness now and again. The simple stereo presentation is mixed quiet and central, with minimal bass response; the overall effect of which is decent enough for the material, but dialogue levels can be inconsistent in terms of volume and environmental noises distort occasionally. Considering the age of the show, the presentation is within the realms of acceptable...just.
A bit sparse in the way of offerings, Law and Order: The Fourth Year offers deleted scenes -- 43 of them to be precise -- and nothing else in terms of extra material. Previous seasons offered cast profiles and featurettes, but alas, there's nothing like that here. Considering this season marks the bizarre and untimely departure of Michael Moriarty from the cast (and the country), I expected to see at least a featurette addressing his rapid exodus and the bizarre political motivations behind it. It is a story you have to hear to believe.
Most of the gripes I have with Law and Order: The Fourth Year are technical in nature. For the Law and Order series, Universal made a decision early on to use double-sided discs, or "flippers," and have stubbornly stuck with them, a system that has its pros and cons. I personally abhor the evil things, as I am constantly paranoid that I will drop or mangle the exposed surfaces, but I suppose 22 hour-long episodes crammed down into three small, slim DVD cases could arguably be a good thing.
While the audio and video presentations are passable, they are far from impressive. But perhaps most aggravating of all, each episode is preceded by an extremely annoying Universal logo, making the "play all" feature a testament in saturated studio self-promotion. After reviewing this DVD set, I now have the Universal Studio logo burned directly into my optic nerve, as with an old television screen.
If we actually have to sell you on Law and Order, then you are the last of the television virgins yet to be deflowered. Some advertising executives no doubt want to have a conversation with you.
The fact is, you know the show, and you love the show, and probably the only thing that stops you from buying the show is the mass saturation of Law and Order in current television syndication. You hit a button combination randomly on your television remote and you are bound to run into at least one Law and Order franchise airing.
But DVD collectors don't need no stinking syndication. Definitely a solid buy.
Not guilty, your Honor. Oh wait, that's me.
Review content copyright © 2006 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1034 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 43 Deleted and Extended Scenes