With a celebrated cast that includes Michael Moriarty (Along Came a Spider), George Dzundza (Basic Instinct), Chris Noth (Sex and the City), Richard Brooks (The Crow: City of Angels), Dann Florek (Law & Order: SVU) and Steven Hill (The Firm), and featuring such notable guest stars as John Spencer (The West Wing), Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), William H. Macy (Fargo), Gil Belows (Ally McBeal), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Red Dragon) and Christine Baranski (Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas), Law & Order: The First Year is a must-have DVD collection.
From its gritty documentary look to its signature note-knocking “tching-tching” that signals scene changes, Law & Order was a groundbreaking cop show when it debuted in 1990. It has since earned Emmys for Best Dramatic Series and spun off satellite franchises, and reruns of the original series are as omnipresent in syndication as those of I Love Lucy. Devoted fans and those who came late to the series can catch it from the beginning with this six-disc set that contains all 22 episodes from the inaugural season.
Law & Order is television’s most resilient series. It has survived wholesale changes to its ensemble. One of the secrets of the show’s durability: its compelling structure. The first half of each hour-long episode is classic police procedural in which “Law,” personified in the first season by partners Greevey (George Dzundza–and be sure to catch the interview segment with series creator Dick Wolfe to learn how to pronounce his name) and Mike Logan (Christopher Noth, the future “Mr. Big” on Sex and the City) investigate a crime and make an arrest. The second half chronicles the ensuing trial, as prosecuted by assistant district attorneys Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) and Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) under the supervision of Steven Hill’s Adam Schiff (more feisty and animated here than in later seasons).
Law & Order is also distinguished by its superb writing. Several episodes take their inspiration from the headlines, including “By Hooker, By Crook” about a socialite-run call-girl ring, and “Indifference,” which recalls the tragic Lisa Steinberg child abuse case. Others deal with such hot-button issues as abortion (“Life Choice”) and AIDS (“The Reaper’s Helper”). Another plus is the talent pool of character actors who lend their verisimilitude. Guest stars include Samuel L. Jackson and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Violence of Summer”), The West Wing‘s John Spencer (“Prescription for Death”), Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon (“Subterranean Homeboy Blues”), and The Sopranos‘ Dominic Chianese (“Sonata for Stolen Organ”). –Donald Liebenson