A successful American cop/legal drama format copied and pasted into a London imagined for an American audience (think part David Simon’s gritty-as-a-mining-town-prostitute Baltimore and part ridiculous Guy Ritchie cock-a-nee fantasy), the first season of Law and Order’s UK iteration appears, unfortunately, as though it’s been written by a nervous committee.
Unsure of itself, it refuses at any point to commit to anything resembling a cross-episode narrative arc. The show introduces a cartoonishly evil crime lord at one point only to completely forget him by the next episode, making his "this isn’t over" speech pretty laughable. It is at least watchable, thanks mainly to a few excellent central performances. In fact, the entire cast is pretty good, especially Walsh in a great turn as a cynical-but-good-hearted cop, and Agyeman as an idealistic public prosecutor. The most interesting scenes involve the minutiae of court proceedings, which are investigated in satisfyingly geeky detail. But the problem is this: a cynical ex-alcoholic cop with a heart of gold? A brilliant lawyer with a troubled past - called Steel? There is no excuse for such lazy cliche-hunting these days.
By the middle of the first series it was all becoming rather fun – accepting, I thought, that it was never going to be properly dark, it could get on with being simply entertaining. But then there’s the last episode, which is properly, unpleasantly dark. After the increasingly cheesy and fun first six episodes, the seventh is an abrupt volte-face: an ambitious but ultimately doomed attempt to say something insightful about rape. The episode staggers through some spectacularly uncomfortable scenes to a bizarre and unfulfilling conclusion: it left me open-mouthed, but for all the wrong reasons.
I actually quite liked the series until the last episode, which was a bit like being punched in the face after a long, relaxing bath. This writing team needs to be much clearer on what kind of show they are writing. If they are a bit more organised, link the episodes more, and work out what kind of end product they want, Season 2 could be very good.
EXTRAS ** There are plenty of special features: various interviews, tours of the set, an alternative beginning and deleted scenes, but again the most interesting watching is when the show looks at courtroom minutiae. Summing Up is an extended look at the legal arguments made in episode 3, plus an additional confrontation between the lawyers. It represents the best thing about this show: an almost documentary desire to show how the English legal system works.