Wednesday, April 13, 2011

LAW & ORDER on Life Support?

Monday's premiere of the newly-retooled (and newly-renamed) Law & Order: LA was meant to signal a triumphant rebirth for the troubled series, but the extensive changes in tone and cast may well have amounted to little more than rearranging the furniture on a certain doomed ocean liner. Far from giving the show a fresh lease on life, it seems like the extended hiatus and "shocking" plot twist (buh-bye, Skeet!) -- breathlessly hyped by NBC for weeks now -- had the exact opposite effect. Ratings for LA's midseason premiere sank even lower than what it had been averaging on Wednesday in the fall and dragged it to a series low. Clearly, this isn't good news, and barring a sudden and pronounced ratings turnaround next week and beyond, the prospects for the latest Law & Order series making it to season two aren't exactly promising.

This is doubly frustrating for me as the show appears finally to have righted itself after the ho-hum factor that plagued the season's front half. The pairing of Alfred Molina and Corey Stoll as detectives is such a no-brainer that I wonder why they didn't think of it from the start. And the decision to bring in Alana De La Garza as backup for Terrence Howard seems to have given the "law" portion the juice it so desperately needed (not to mention giving the typically somnambulant Howard some actual energy). While "Zuma Canyon," the first episode in Monday night's two-fer, was primarily concerned with ushering out Skeet Ulrich's Rex Winters and setting up the new status quo for Molina's Ricardo Morales, the night's second ep, "Silver Lake," showcasing the now-Detective Morales and bringing in De La Garza's returned Connie Rubirosa, provided a welcome preview of what could potentially become one of the stronger L&O ensembles (and gave the show an actual title theme, to boot).

With Criminal Intent's final batch of eps premiering early next month, Special Victims Unit clearly on the downswing both qualitatively and quantitatively, and LOLA's ongoing travails, it's starting to look more than ever like the sun is setting on Dick Wolf's legendary brand (notwithstanding the UK model, still continuing, still excellent). And while a collective forty-plus seasons of TV is hardly cause to say it was cut down in its prime, I can't help shake the feeling that at least some of the blame can be laid at the feet of the NBC, whose ignominious decision to cancel the Mothership last Spring without notice robbed it of a proper final season, as well as the opportunity to organically lead into its next iteration. In the process, they cut short the development window the producers clearly needed to get Law & Order: LA right, and the result is a potentially stillborn series that may die for all the wrong reasons.

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