Universal // 1990 // 1080 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // December 2nd, 2008
Drag Queen: "I dress up for work just like you do, Detective."
Briscoe: "Yeah, only I don't have to tuck in so much."
Law & Order is like televised heroin. Sure, you may tell yourself you're out, but then you surf upon the near continuous loop of L&O reruns on cable and before you know it, a week's passed and the cat's gone missing.
It's year six for Dick Wolf's legal drama, and Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) is the new kid in the precinct, taking over for Chris Noth's bad ass Detective Logan. Season 6 marks Jack McCoy's second year as ADA, Claire Kincaid's last, and some newly snappy detective banter courtesy of the old school/new school dynamic between Briscoe and Curtis. Just like every other season, episodes are a 50/50 split of tracking down the criminals and then trying to put them behind bars, with lots of red herrings and legal SNAFUS along the way.
Law & Order: The Sixth Year includes 23 more episodes of crime-solving, plus a crossover with Homicide: Life on the Street.
L&O is one of the few shows whose revolving door policy is actually an asset. When characters don't work out, they don't stick around for long, and the absence of storylines for the main characters means I don't have to put up with the sloppy write-outs and out-of-character moments that have made me ditch other favorites. New ADA less interesting than the shelves of legal books behind her? Out (and outed) she goes! Ratings stagnate and the network threatens cancellation? Reshuffle the pecking order at the DA's office.
Adding a tech savvy detective this season means the writers can bring crimes into the digital age as Rey uses his computer skills to dig up evidence via message boards and pornographic chat rooms. Stories about Stockholm Syndrome and a schizophrenic lawyer are a nice change from the mob stories that peppered earlier seasons, and the show even steps outside of its procedural comfort zone with a Homicide crossover and season finale "Aftershock," following the four leads into the world outside work after they've witnessed an execution.
You'd think the show's fondness for "ripped from the headlines" stories would date it badly, but it's just the opposite. In '96, I was so sick of hearing about the baby-shaking British nanny that I couldn't stomach a dramatized version; now I can't even remember the girl's name and "Homesick" becomes great viewing, especially with Patti Lupone on hand as a sharp-tongued defense attorney.
As good as Lupone is, the best episode of the season is "Corpus Delicti," where a prank call to the precinct about a dead horse starts off with some Mr. Ed jokes and takes all sorts of twists and turns until leading up to a possible homicide. The episode is its own perfect storm of dark humor and darker plot twists. Every season has its clunkers, though, and this year it's "Humiliation." The tale of a dead hooker linked to a plastic surgeon is DOA thanks to a stiff script and a cringe-inducing performance by actress playing the doctor's wife.
The constant rotation of guest stars always means every year yields a few "before they were famous" appearances (this year it's Jennifer Garner) but this season has thrown up some weird coincidences for pop culture geeks. Victor Garber and Lynn Thigpen (former Godspell costars) wind up on opposite ends of the bench in "Savages" and Ellen Pompeo and Brooke Smith (later to butt heads in Grey's Anatomy) go toe to toe in "Savior." Both Michael Imperioli and J.K Simmons turn up in guest roles before joining the series in later years and Richard Brooks returns as Paul Robinette, whose character has become a defense attorney in the two years since we've seen him.
When it comes to tech specs, The Sixth Season doesn't disappoint. I was a later convert to the Law & Order franchise, and I've been watching the full frame reruns for years, so revisiting episodes in their original widescreen is a revelation. The picture has held up pretty well, but looks slightly speckled on larger screens and computer monitors, with a few episodes sporting the occasional white spot. The stereo track hasn't lost any oomph over the years; you can literally hear every chime of silverware and napkin rustle in restaurant scenes.
The set's only extra is the Homicide: Life on the Streets episode, and since that finishes off the crossover started on L&O, it's more of a necessity than a bonus. Sure, watching Richard Belzer and Jerry Orbach completely steal the show is pretty special, but you'd think a series that's been on the air almost two decades could at least yield a blooper reel or some old promos.
Cutting out all the relationship crap and personal drama that bogs down other crime shows is what's kept Law & Order fresh for 19 seasons and what gives the show its replay value. That same replay value means you can catch all these episodes on cable but the restoration to its original widescreen roots make it a no-brainer for fans of crime shows, despite the lacking extras.
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1080 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Homicide: Life on the Street Episode