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+