There was no shortage of "extras" in Judge Jeff Andreasen's third year.
Our reviews of Law And Order: The Fourth Year (published February 6th, 2006), Law And Order: The Fourteenth Year (published November 3rd, 2004), and Law And Order: The Sixth Year (published December 2nd, 2008) are also available.
Enticing. Addictive. Readily available to people of all ages and incomes. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, these are most heinous attributes, and there can be only one appropriate charge for this defendant: Trafficking in the deadly narcotic that is Law & Order.
In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important…Oh come on. Everyone knows that opening line. You're just padding the word count. Get on with it, counselor.
Facts of the Case
Er, of course, your honor. Ladies and gentlemen, this is an open and shut case, almost unworthy of the attention of this court. What we have here is an attractive defendant, tricked out in packaging I wish we'd see in every full-season collection instead of those blasted endless foldouts. He sits there smug and confident that you'll deliver a verdict of not guilty. Sometimes these are the most difficult cases to prosecute. The defendant is well-liked by a great many people. The defendant is so well known that it is impossible for people, such as yourselves, to deliver a verdict that is impartial or that has not been manipulated by your opinions based on his public persona.
And no, I'm not talking about Michael Jackson.
This particular brand of narcotic hit the streets in 1990 and was innocuous enough at first. It had a rigid structure from which it did not…and does not…deviate: first half-hour is for the cops finding and arresting the suspect; second half-hour is for the lawyers tossing him in the pokey. With a plethora of stunningly un-notable stars, Law & Order seemed unlikely to endure on a TV landscape dotted with luminary shows like Cheers, Rosanne, Murder She Wrote, In the Heat of the Night, and The Cosby Show. But many of those shows were in their waning years, and Law & Order was new and enjoyed the benefit of the doubt. The show's structure itself was also a selling point, a quirk that kept people coming back, if only to see how they could possibly wrap up some of the storylines they'd gotten into in a mere thirty minutes per segment! It also had a good ensemble cast, with Michael Moriarty as Executive Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone and Steven Hill as District Attorney Adam Schiff leading the way. George Dzundza was cast in the first season as Chris Noth's partner in the investigative half of the show, but for some reason thought the world revolved around him and butted heads with just about everyone in the production. He was jettisoned before the second season commenced. In came Paul Sorvino, and thus began the revolving door of cast members that has kept the series fresh and focused for, wow, is it really going on sixteen years?
It was rough going for a time for Law & Order, but the show stayed its course, resisted changing its format, and persevered with intelligent, provocative stories. In year three, Paul Sorvino's sore throat and ambitions in the opera called him from the mean streets and he departed the show, replaced by Jerry Orbach, who more or less became the face of Law & Order until his death in December 2004. Orbach's "position" on the show, Mike Logan's (Chris Noth's) partner, was the only part that had changed in the first three years of Law & Order, and that consistency helped establish a fan base and permitted the series's creators the latitude to produce the sort of shows that would not only make headlines by being "ripped" from the headlines, but bring in better ratings. That constancy of cast would change in the fourth year, but since we're talking about Law & Order: The Third Year, we won't go into that.
The Third Year saw some great television, including "Conspiracy," about a Malcolm X-like assassination plot; "Helpless," wherein Stone takes a sham press conference to entice a megalomaniacal rapist; "Prince of Darkness," an aptly named tale of the drug business and its dire consequences (and in which Ceretta (Paul Sorvino) is gut shot); and "Virus," to name a few. The episodes in their entirety are:
"Virus" is particularly interesting, as it tackles the still-irksome issue of computer crimes in an era when computers were ponderous things, and not the sleek machines hawked today by HP, Sony, and Dell. Just look at the trappings of the day in these episodes. "Cell phones" in 1992-1993 were blocky, cordless behemoths and not the Star Trek communicator-like devices enjoyed by the masses of 2005. So when Briscoe and Logan express their ignorance of all things techno in this episode, pity them their cluelessness at the turn of the century and beyond!
A downside to this season, which was less prevalent in the two previous years, is the now-familiar ploy of the judge tossing in the second half hour more or less every bit of evidence the cops acquired during the first half hour. It must have been frustrating and mesmerizing watching the DAs deal with these setbacks in 1992-1993, but for the last ten years the show has leaned on the same tired tactic and watching it again just makes me roll my eyes. Yes, judges toss evidence. Yes, the cops can be overeager and maybe ignorant of some of the more arcane intricacies of the law, but for god's sake how often can the same detectives make the same errors in judgment? And I'd also be interested in knowing just how often judges are suckered into making judgments seemingly against all reason. Well, now that I think about it, I guess I don't wonder that much.
It's been written that Law & Order: The Third Year is one of, if not the, best seasons in the show's fifteen year run. Certainly the template has been mastered here and rolls along like a juggernaut with confidence and precision in its execution. The acting is first rate, from the sleazy scumbags and deceptive elitists encountered by the detectives throughout their investigations to the magnificent guest stars that pepper the entire season: Claire Danes, Felicity Huffman, Edie Falco, Eric Bogosian, Ron Rifkin, Alan King, Joe Morton…the list goes on. The stories are intriguing and involving and new enough with the twists to not be trite. These alone are reasons enough to purchase this set. And the price is right at 45 bucks from Amazon.com.
But that's not all! As mentioned earlier, the packaging is a treat here. Three individual plastic cases in a stout slipcase hold one double-sided disc apiece, chock-full of eight episodes of goodness each (except for the third disc, which weighs in at six). I hate the foldout covers, especially when taken to the extreme (helloooo, The Alien Quadrilogy) and welcome the Law & Order format. The menus are colorful, animated, and easy to navigate. To be expected, you can listen to Mike Post's distinctive Law & Order theme music as you decide which episode to investigate. The video is as crisp and clear as anything you've seen on television, but there's no evidence that these episodes have been significantly remastered. The Dolby 2.0 sound is good, but to be honest there isn't much in a Law & Order episode to really stretch the audio. You can hear everything the characters say, mutter, or scream. That's enough.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So you're looking for extras, are you? Well, you may as well take a seat at a Law & Order casting call, 'cause you sure aren't going to find anything worthwhile in this collection.
There is a smattering of deleted scenes peppered across the three discs, though there's nothing here that will be missed, which is, of course, why they were rightly ditched from the broadcast in the first place. But these deleted scenes are sloppily presented, with washed out colors and grain. And in one case, a scene with Frances Fisher "deleted" from "Animal Instinct" actually appears in the episode! Check it out at 18 minutes 15 seconds and compare the quality to "Animal Instinct" Deleted Scene 2.
The Jerry Orbach profile is a decent enough five-minute sit, with footage from an interview conducted with Orbach along with some behind-the-scenes footage and pertinent scenes taken from the series. It's too bad extended commentary wasn't recorded with Orbach for some of the more noteworthy episodes. Or for inclusion as a better and more comprehensive (read: longer) tribute. Ahhh, but then there wouldn't be anything to put in…
…the just as truncated Jerry Orbach Tribute, also in the "extras" section of Disc Three. Parts of this five-minute collection of interview segments are actually rather involving. At least the interviews with Orbach's Law & Order co-stars. Chris Noth and Dann Florek's intimation of some of the behind-the-scenes grinding between George Dzundza, Paul Sorvino, and Michael Moriarty versus the rest of the cast and crew makes me want to see more of this dirt in an extended segment. There's a lot of loving here for Jerry too, particularly from longtime castmates S. Epatha Merkerson and Jesse L. Martin, who actually looks moved to tears at one point. Then there are the totally spurious obits from the cast of Law & Order: Trial by Jury (which was tried by the public and put to the axe). These canned, emotionless speeches were more insulting than tributary, with Fred Dalton Thompson's eulogy particularly stony. Figures, seeing where the man just came from. Less than eleven full minutes of "tribute" for the man who personified this series for over ten years. This may just be me, but Jerry Orbach deserved better than this.
Law & Order is one of the best television shows ever. It is consistently engaging and has a quality of writing unseen on many network shows, which isn't surprising given network content these days. Watching the episodes of The Third Year is watching the legend unfold. It is also the last year of stability for the cast. Pressured by NBC to diversify its acting contingent, Law & Order bade farewell after The Third Year to Richard Brooks (ADA Paul Robinette) and Dann Florek (Police Captain Donald Cragen). The year after that saw Moriarty's departure. A revolving door of Assistant District Attorneys followed, and even Steven Hill finally left the show in 2000. But for this season, everything fell into place, and the series latched onto the one keeper that was its anchor until his death in 2004: Jerry Orbach. For that reason alone, Law & Order: The Third Year would have to be vindicated.
You don't have to be from Santa Maria to declare this defendant not guilty on all charges. Law & Order, its cast, and its crew are all free to go with the court's blessings, and its apologies that the show was ever brought before this bench in the first place. Universal, however, is placed on notice that what it considers extras are far from being worthy of the moniker. Next case!
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