Here are two dramas tucked into one viewing hour: Law & Order devotes the first half of each episode to showing you a crime committed and its investigation. The show spends its other half-hour in the courtroom, following the case to its conclusion.
It’s a little gimmicky, but it works, primarily on the strength of the cast. George Dzundza (No Way Out, The Deer Hunter) heads up the Law side of the show as a tough New York police detective paired with a younger, more idealistic partner (Christopher Noth). Just watching the portly Dzundza barrel his way onto the scene of a crime is a pleasure, as is hearing tough talk coming out of his soft face. Dzundza has spent his ordinary-guy, character-actor career proving his worth — you expect him to be good, and he is.
Michael Moriarty, who plays Assistant District Attorney Stone in the Order part of the show, has spent his career proving what a weirdo he can be. With his wide, blank eyes and high, flat speaking voice, Moriarty always seems on the verge of catatonia, or a breakdown. In Law & Order, however, Moriarty proves what many have always suspected: He can blink and talk like an ordinary fellow. His DA is a good guy with an edge of imperiousness and frustration. He knows he’s good at his job, and he’s sick of both big-city bureaucracy and the yuppie-shark lawyers defending the scum he wants to put behind bars.
It’s rare enough for a series to have one character as good as either Dzundza’s or Moriarty’s. Having two in the same show is a prime-time gift. B+