Friday, November 9, 2012

Why I’m real big on Law and Order

No, I’m not talking about the justice system, or crime in South Africa, but the TV show.

I share a house with my mother, who is a big fan of cop/crime dramas. If she’s not watching Monk or Rookie Blue or Flashpoint, then she’s on the Crime & Investigation channel, getting an extra dose of grit and gore. And I have to admit, I’ve been known to waste more than a few hours on The Mentalist or CSI.

Recently we’ve been watching Law and Order, and I have to tell you that this is the most incredible script writing imaginable. If you haven’t seen an episode in the 20 years they’ve been running, then do yourself a favour.

This evening, I caught a piece of an episode of the British version which appears to be just as awesome as the original US version. The one scene I caught crystallised just why this show is so brilliant: it is unflinching.

How many times have we seen this scenario in a cop show?
Young woman is murdered. There are several suspects, her (married) lover chief among them. The evidence against him mounts, some provided by the lover’s unwitting wife. Then in a dramatic twist the wife turns out to be the cold-hearted killer, having known for some time of the affair. The husband is shocked his demure, suburban wife would do such a thing.

In most shows, this is the point where, the investigator having displayed his/her magnificent sleuthing skills, the end credits begin to roll.

Not on Law and Order.

This is when it just starts to get good.

The shocked husband turns to his wife and asks “Why did you do it? She meant nothing to me. You and our son are all I ever cared about.”
Wife: “you gave me herpes.”
Husband: “you got a few sores so you killed her?”
Wife: “I was pregnant at the time.”
The husband and wife have a brain-damaged child.

In just a few sentences the entire balance of this episode has shifted. It’s no longer about a murdered woman. It’s about a mother, not knowing she has herpes, passing it to her unborn child and that child’s life being changed forever.
Just like that, the viewer’s sympathy shifts.

That is the power of brilliant writing.

I’ll admit I’ve cried in many an episode of Law and Order. And those that didn’t make me cry have made me think. Every episode pushes the viewer to re-look at a situation, to shift an opinion, or to feel for a character you wouldn’t normally feel for. Every episode is a challenge.

Any chance the Law and Order fairies could wave their magic wand over everything I write and make it just as powerful?


  1. What a great overview, Romy! I used to watch Law & Order but haven't seen it for a while, although I watch some of the other US crime dramas.

  2. I think your mum and I would get on just fine, Romy, for I also adore TV cop dramas.
    And Law and Order UK is at the top of my list. If I can't actually watch it, I always record it.
    The concept is simply brilliant, taking the viewer from the initial crime, through the police investigation and then following it into the courts.
    Sounds so simple, but they do it so well. x