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Georgia on My Mind and Albany on My Ass: A Law & Order Post

April 28, 2010

In the Law & Order universe one meets a recurring group of characters – played by various classically trained, but hopelessly “average” looking actors – who rarely get their due. They are as much a part of the show’s success as Jack McCoy’s eyebrows, Lt. Van Buren’s interrupted curbside lunches for worthless case updates, Det. Green’s teeny tiny notebooks filled with pantomimed crime scene notes and Adam Schiff’s enduring fear of Albany.

Trust me, I’ve been to Albany and I don’t want them on my ass either.

The Body Discoverer

    Hopefully you don’t have plans for the evening when happening upon the mangled body of a shock jock or a school teacher. If so, you’re on the wrong show. Because in the L&O universe, finding a dead body while unfurling rolled up carpet isn’t just the start of your story. It is your story. And you should be memorable. So you really need to be kvetching with your spouse, fumbling for lost keys in your beast of burden bag or perhaps about to finally give your 7th grade crush a kiss. These folks seem rather nonplussed – even for New Yorkers – at finding an unexpected body. They ham it up with the uniformed officers first on the scene and almost never seem to care they missed their dinner reservations, blew off out of town relatives or are going to be late for their shift at the The Spread Eagle.

Lt. Van Buren 'ounding Green

The First Suspect

    Always good for a laugh, a snarky retort and the stench of stale smoke and body odor that leaps out of your TV and into your home (and hearts). These folks are all about doing things the hard way, and even as the detective rattle off the list of previous arrests and allude to rap sheets approximating the length of their limbs, the faux perps always seem so indignant. Oh sure, they’ve committed some crimes, but not this one. One tap by Van Buren – who is exiting the show at the end of this season – on the two way glass confirms the previously shaky seeming “I was at home watching TV/I was in Rikers/I was unconscious” alibi.

The Friend/Roommate/Boss/Coworker

    They always lie. They always rifle through files, racks of clothing or CDs while blithely offering staggering amounts of unhelpful and generally erroneous information to detectives. And upon their second visit from the detectives they always sheepishly state, “Look, I know I lied before.” and offer up some sanitized version of the truth, which usually involves a tawdry affair, embezzlement or refusal to donate precious body organs.

The “This Might Not Mean Anything, But…” Person

    Now, I’m a super observant person with a spectacular memory, but not even in my wildest dreams could I recall the kind of minutiae these folks can. Never mind they are always a 3rd cousin once removed, or a bookstore clerk that only helped the victim twice or a physician coming off an eleventy billion hour shift, they always remember one specific detail that makes the detectives roll their eyes, suck their teeth and set their lasers on the killer who they now have to keep from boarding a train to Baltimore or a flight to Rio.

The Black Lady Judge

    I don’t know what their numbers are in real life, but daytime TV and Law & Order would have you believe the courts are filled with chubby, black, medium toned women with eyelids at permanent half mast and with lips perpetually in search of lemons to suck. They range in type from the Jocelyn Elders, “Overruled, but watch it, counselor, or I’ll find you in contempt faster than you can say ‘concrete suite at the steel bar Sheraton’. We clear?” to the C.C.H Pounder type who fight every urge in their body not to say, “I know you aren’t sitting up here asking me for bail?” and instead take a deep breath and calmly state, “Bail denied. Defendant is remanded to custody penning trial.” While generally fair and reasonable, they are not above demanding the lawyers approach the bench, covering the mic with a well manicured hand and threatening to snatch those knuckleheads bald headed if they engage in anymore courtroom theatrics.

A version of this entry previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2010 10:02 am

    I can see you as one of those judges.

  2. evmaroon permalink
    April 28, 2010 11:31 am

    Whammo! Out of the park! Thanks for breaking down one of my favorite story formulas since 1990. I’d also like to add my big, sad sigh at the news at DC native Merkerson’s departure. I’d also lovingly like to add to your analysis the dual-edged sword of science: as the foundation for their evidence in forensics and psychological profiling, and as the oft-misused culprit in many of their cases. Those mad scientists and evil electronics geeks!

    Oh, and always always always interview The Wife.

  3. April 28, 2010 12:31 pm

    This post, dead on!

    I stopped watching shortly after Jerry Orbach passed, but I’m still sad to hear Merkerson will be leaving the show. I think she was a much better boss for the show than Dann Florek, whose Cragen character got a much needed writing upgrade when he moved to SVU.

    I’m about to get season six from the library, featuring my favorite detecting duo Briscoe & Curtis. I’ve probably seen every episode already, but why take a chance? That gavel noise elicits such a Pavlovian response from me that I’ve set several of my computer programs to use it as an alert sound.

    It’s the same dance over and over, with a slightly different tune. Then again, people go to see Swan Lake multiple times, consistency can’t be all bad. Chacun à son goût.

  4. April 28, 2010 12:59 pm


    I would only add The “Feminist” Defense Attorney Who Gets All Up In The Prosecution’s Face Because No Man/System Is Gonna Push Her Around Even Though Her Client Is Guilty As Sin So She Looks Pretty Foolish (Lorraine Toussaint is the ne plus ultra, but there have certainly been others). And, although this technically belongs to a different category than what you describe, I would also like to note the recent twist on The Killer You Can Spot In The First Ten Seconds Because The Actor Was At Some Point Kind Of Famous, which is The Once Reasonably Famous Actor Who Is Obviously Doing Something Vaguely Well-Meaning But Deeply Unethical That Will Come Up Later (e.g., Sherry Stringfield, Debra Winger).

  5. April 28, 2010 1:02 pm

    LORRAINE TOUSSAINT! LOL. Yes. And her “community activist” cohort the late great Lynne Thigpen, better known to most of us as Chief on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.

  6. April 28, 2010 1:58 pm

    My favorite is The Body Discoverer. I always wish we could devote a whole separate show to The Body Discoverer’s experience finding a dead body and how they’re dealing with the trauma.

  7. April 28, 2010 4:04 pm

    The Killer You Can Spot In The First Ten Seconds Because The Actor Was At Some Point Kind Of Famous

    There’s a Trope for that.

    The L & O franchise is also famous for recycling actors in different roles, leading to many a Hey, It’s That Guy!. My favorite is Zeljko Ivanek who played a recurring role as a defense attorney. I always wondered when he came in for the H:LOTS crossover episodes as ASA Ed Danvers if Jack McCoy would notice the striking similarity. No matter if the audience is even the least bit observant, we’ll just recycle him into an episode in 2004 as yet another character! (And yet another character for SVU, because L&O fans don’t watch all the shows, right?)

  8. April 28, 2010 4:18 pm

    Zeljko Ivanek is like the hardest working man in show business. He’s on everything.

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