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'Law & Order' Is Solid TV Again

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 2, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 2, 2023 |


I gave an enormous amount of grief to the first season back for Law & Order last year. The reboot was bad. In fact, it was awful. It was hacky, pulled too often “straight from the headlines,” the acting was almost as overcooked as the writing, and its attempts to address contemporary cultural issues were cringeworthy.

What we loved about the first 20 seasons of Law & Order was its staidness. Yes, it pulled from the headlines, but it kept things chill. There was a formula. It followed it. The personal lives of the characters were not a part of the series. The police investigated a murder. The lawyers prosecuted the crime.

Season 22 of the series has course-corrected. It’s a return to form, while also providing glimpses into the lives of the characters. While it continues to engage with cultural issues, it manages to mostly stay in its lane.

Last week’s episode, “Fear and Loathing” is maybe the best example of the new old Law & Order. The episode begins with two white cops badgering Detective Jalen Shaw (the phenomenal Mehcad Brooks, who replaced Anthony Anderson). Detective Shaw is trying to show them his badge, but they won’t listen. They pull out their guns. They don’t believe he is a cop, and they are clearly harassing him because he’s Black. Eventually, Shaw’s partner — Jeffrey Donovan’s Detective Frank Cosgrove — comes to Shaw’s aid.

I should note, too, that Detective Cosgrove is not the weird racist caricature he was last season — now he acts like a detective who has had Black partners for the last two decades and understands the bullshit they have to endure because he’s witnessed it. To wit: Cosgrove and Lieutenant Kate Dixon (Camryn Manheim) both tell Shaw that if he files a complaint against the white cops, the sh*t is going to hit the fan and that Shaw will get railroaded. However, both Cosgrove and Dixon vow to have his back “no matter what.”

After one of the white cops tries to bully him into not filing a complaint, Shaw does just that. Nevertheless, Shaw’s union rep — who is Black — tries to talk him into dropping the complaint, too. Shaw refuses. Predictably, the white cops file a counter-complaint against Shaw for resisting arrest. Guess how it turns out? Internal Affairs clears the white cops, but the sham complaint against Shaw sticks. He is given a week’s suspension without pay. It’s a kick in the gut.

“I have seen some positive changes in the department,” Lt. Dixon tells him, “but the blue wall is the blue wall.”

It’s a personal story about one of the characters, but it not only addresses issues of systemic racism within the police force, it plays into the main storyline, as well. It centers on a NextDoor-like app that allows users to pinpoint where suspicious activities or crimes are happening. A real-estate buyer uses it to scare the bejesus out of homeowners by falsely alerting residents to crimes, thereby driving down the prices of the homes so that he can snatch them up. One homeowner is so alarmed by a warning that he ends up killing a Black man he had been convinced by the app was a dangerous threat. The killer settled, but the prosecutor went after the real-estate buyer. When Shaw testified against the real-estate guy, the defense used the bogus, racist complaint filed against him to impeach his character. Fortunately, the prosecution still manages to secure a conviction, but it was one of many humiliations for Shaw in the episode.

Shaw is a lawyer, and he quit so he could do some good as a detective. This is how he’s repaid. It was a genuinely infuriating episode in the best way. It was a compelling, relevant story written well with believable performances, continuing the streak of strong episodes this season. Feels like old times.