We watch... so you don't have to.

Fall '99: "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

There's really only one flavor of Doritos, y'know. You can buy lots of variations that call themselves Doritos, of course -- Cool Ranch Doritos, Taco Bell Doritos, Spicy BBQ Doritos, 3D Doritos, Ham 'n Eggs Doritos, Zesty Szechwan Doritos -- but there's really only one, true flavor. I don't care what Frito-Lay says. There's only one.

The same goes for Law & Order. Consistently one of the best series on TV, L&O has become an institution because of its longevity and its quality. And I don't care if Dick Wolf, Law & Order's creator, is hawking Spicy BBQ Law & Order or Taco Bell Law & Order or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit -- it's just not Law & Order. It's a pale, opportunistic rip-off is what it is, and it tastes terrible.

L&O:SUV is proof that Homicide hadn't hit rock bottom quite yet. Where the original Law & Order distinguishes itself by concentrating on procedure and plot over high-strung theatrics, the new series -- in the course of a single hour -- devolves into hapless, helpless, character-driven mush. You know it's not really L&O when you don't need to take notes to follow the plot.

Any series with the words "Law" and "Order" in the title should in no way involve candle-lit, wine-sipping, mother-daughter dinners where it is explained that the conflicted sex-crimes detective is herself the product of a rape. Compare this melodramatic indulgence to the original series' affair between DA's office workmates (where even the actors playing the parts weren't told) and you have the essence of the problem. If I want babbling, emotionalistic hysterics, I'll watch my own life, thankyouverymuch.

Even without having to live up to the left-hand side of the colon, L&O: SUX would be a mess: Homicide without the acting, NYPD Blue without the dialog, Starsky & Hutch without the car. There's just nothing there to bother with.

Det. Benson (Mariska Hargitay) seems to be constantly looking for the Lifetime logo in the corner of the screen -- stupidly rash one minute, vomiting at the consequence the next, she's no more a New York City sex-crimes detective than I'm a little teapot. Her partner, Det. Stabler (Christopher Meloni), distinguishes himself mostly by making the entire viewing audience wonder where they've seen him before. Likable Det. Munch (Richard Belzer, transplanted from the corpse of Homicide) is given exactly nothing to do, save his likable Det. Munch impression. Captain Cragan (Dann Florek) sleepwalks through his previous L&O role, in an apparent attempt to make us switch over to original series re-runs on A&E. There may or may not be other people in the cast -- it was hard to tell against the furniture in the background.

What a disappointment. What a disaster. Given the pedigree that L&O: TLA was birthed with, I had high hopes for a solid, level-headed, no-nonsense hour of television -- desperately needed as an alternative to the manic, hyperactive Ally McBeal.

Instead, what I got was Cool Ranch Doritos.


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