TV | Ken Tucker's TV

The last 'Law & Order' review: How can we miss you if you never go away?

The central plot of last night’s final new episode of Law & Order mattered less than all the stuff going on around it. It was the unexpectedly abrupt conclusion of the series after NBC unveiled its fall schedule last week, and L&O was nowhere to be seen. It gave us some closure to the season-long subplot about the cancer

diagnosis for S. Epatha Merkerson’s Lt. Van Buren. And Olympic star and prima Law & Order fan Lindsey Vonn made a cameo appearance.

I liked that the final hour featured a pretty standard case for this 20-season-old series: an unstable blogger making death threats and pipe bombs. It’s up to Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) to track the guy down, and for attorneys Cutter (Linus Roache) and Rubirosa (Alana de la Garza), and their boss Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) to prosecute him.

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With Law & Order, there’s always either a ripped-from-the-headlines crime and/or a social issue to be addressed. This week, it was the difficult, unrewarding jobs teachers often have. The hour came down rather hard on teachers’ unions, I must say.

In fact, it was left to guest star Vonn, behind a nice pair of horn rims, to play an administrative assistant at a teacher’s union office who helped Lupo and Bernard get closer to finding the villain before he blows up a school.

On the personal side – a side L&O rarely ventured into – we learned that Van Buren’s cervical cancer is

in remission, and we were allowed to hope that she and her boyfriend, played by Ernie Hudson, would find some happiness.

In the final seasons of Law & Order, I grew most fond of the “order” side of the scales of justice. I thought Roache and de la Garza turned into interesting, unpredictable characters. Last night, Waterston got to have a great scene, ordering a teacher to give up the name of a suspect colleague and to ignore her union lawyer (played excellently by Nurse Jackie’s Paul Schulze). On the other hand, I often felt Sisto and Anderson

were given short shrift much of the time.

But that’s the way it’s always been with the L&O ensemble – the characters’ quality see-sawed back and forth. For some years, the cops (Chris Noth’s Mike Logan! Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe!) were more  intriguing than the prosecutors.

I paid my respects to Law & Order at greater length when its cancellation was announced; you can read that piece here.

But now I’ll add that, after spending so many years with a show, you developed fondnesses for characters outside the immediate ring of stars. I admit to a bit of a crush on no-nonsense clinical psychologist Elizabeth Olivet (Carolyn McCormick), for example. But beyond the people, it was, as producer Dick Wolf always said, the structure of the show that was the real hook – that, and the gray grit of the New York City backdrop.

That’s why Law & Order in eternal reruns is so comforting. You can enjoy episodes even when you remember the case or the outcome, because you want to immerse yourself in that Law & Order feeling that didn’t insult your intelligence. Not excessively emotional, rarely maudlin, always open to the notion that law and order might not always prevail, this series was crisp and dry in the most nourishing way.

What did you think of the Law & Order finale?

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Originally posted May 25 2010 — 8:59 AM EDT

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