Eye For Film >> Movies >> Law And Order: The Fifth Year (1994) Film Review
You don’t get to be the longest running crime show in the world – and the second longest running drama series - without doing something right. Law And Order, despite rumours of its imminent demise earlier this year will begin shooting its 18th season next January. But it is reassuring to note that this fifth season of the drama, which splits its action between the squad chasing down the bad guys and the New York city prosecutors trying to put them away, is as strong as any in the franchise.
Newcomers to the series will be pleased to note that you don’t need to have seen any of the previous seasons to enjoy the fifth. Each story is stand-alone, with a minimum of soap, so that you can jump in virtually anywhere without feeling like the new kid in school who doesn’t know any of the faces.
Viewers more familiar with the slicker, crime scene orientated CSI may be in for something of a shock. There’s no glossy CGI here, just solid, smart scripting and stories with a good twist.
Heading up the squad room is S Epetha Merkeson’s Lieutenant Anita Van Buren. She’s sharp and practical, the perfect counterpoint to the detectives who work every case, Lenny Briscoe (the wonderful and much mourned Jerry Orbach) and Mike Logan (Chris Noth in his final season, but whose character is now back on the beat in Law And Order’s sister show Criminal Intent).
Over in the courthouse, Season Five sees the arrival of Sam Waterston as prosecutor Jack McCoy – and he’s a very angry man, picking fights with anyone and everyone, including his colleague Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessey), boss Adam Schiff (Steven Hill) and the cops.
Anyone who thought that the grim look of New York was invented by CSI:NY should take a look at the colour palette here, which is as downbeat and gritty as anything later created by the newer show. Despite the characters’ home lives being completely unimportant, their relationships with one another are key, particularly the sparring between Lenny and Mike as they try to solve cases.
Also key to the show’s success is the wonderful array of character actors that the casting department always manage to come up with. These are rarely the sort of just-stepped-out-of-the-tanning-salon actors who populate the CSI franchise but realistic, warts and all denizens of the New York jungle. Hookers look like hookers, tramps look seedy and there are plenty of little old ladies and gents pretending not to have heard a killer in the neighbouring apartment.
Stand-out episodes this season, include Competence, in which Van Buren becomes a victim of crime herself, and the twisty Coma, which sees the prosecutors get embroiled in a life-or-death decision concerning a victim. It’s hard to play favourites, however, since virtually all of the episodes are solidly put together.
Another strength of the show is its refusal to give easy solutions. Many of the episodes are loosely based on actual crimes, or court cases, lending them an air of verisimilitude. Equally, the stories are frequently ambiguous, such as the season opener Second Opinion, and quite often the “bad guy” gets away with it.
It is this combination of the puzzle of the crime and the uncertainty surrounding the trial that makes Law And Order such a winning formula. When coupled with some excellent performances, particularly from Noth, Orbach and Waterston, who seem born into the roles, it makes the series a must-have for crime drama junkies.Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2007