Judge Adam Arseneau once pleaded a traffic ticket through the magic of interpretive dance. It is now a felony for him to operate a motor vehicle in Idaho, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
Our reviews of Law And Order: The Third Year (published June 29th, 2005), Law And Order: The Fourteenth Year (published November 3rd, 2004), and Law And Order: The Sixth Year (published December 2nd, 2008) are also available.
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.
Facts of the Case
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:
• "Black Tie"
• "Pride and Joy"
• "American Dream"
• "Born Bad"
• "The Pursuit of Happiness"
• "The Golden Years"
• "Big Bang"
• "Old Friends"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
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Scales of Justice
• 43 Deleted and Extended Scenes
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