The Light from the TV Shows: The Current State of “Law & Order”

Is it me, or does it feel inherently wrong that there’s only one “Law & Order” series on the air at the moment?

I’m not saying that it hasn’t been completely and totally warranted to make fun of how many members of the franchise there have been over the years. In addition to the so-called mothership, “Law & Order,” you’ve had “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” and “Law & Order: Los Angeles.” Oh, and lest we forget, there was also “Conviction,” which – although it didn’t feature the words “Law & Order” in front of its title, was a spin-off featuring the character of Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) as a Bureau Chief Executive ADA supervising the newest crop of ADAs.

I admit it: that’s a hell of a lot of “Law & Order.” But, dammit, I like “Law & Order.” Even if I’ve never liked the various spin-offs quite as much as the mothership, all of the series still served as TV comfort food, each just different enough from the other to make me happy. All things being equal, I can’t complain that the one “L&O” series left is “SVU,” as that’s the one that’s often been on the verge of overtaking the original series as my favorite, but now that there’s no Stabler, even “SVU” feels…dare I say it?…a little unstable.

Thank heavens, then, that the series has decided to delve into its universe of characters and bring back one from the mothership: Michael Cutter, played by Linus Roache. The relationship between Roache and Sam Waterson on the original series was great, but in his return to the franchise, we’re now going to see Cutter standing on his own, getting to be the big shot this time around. Also turning up on the series is another actor who recently his full-time gig go under: Andre Braugher, late of “Men of a Certain Age.” If you’re a real diehard “L&O” fan, you may remember that Braugher once turned up on the original series, but…well, I’ll let him remind you about it.

Bullz-Eye: Well, Linus, it’s good to have you back in the “Law & Order” family, and Andre, it’s nice to see you as part of it…although, technically speaking, this will be the second time you’ve made your way into the “Law & Order” universe.

Andre Braugher: Yeah, you know, I think it was maybe 1996 that we did a “Homicide” / “Law & Order” crossover with the mothership show. 15 years ago! I was Frank Pembleton then, and I’m Bayard Ellis now, but there’s a cute little piece at the very beginning of this episode where Munch comes up and introduces himself to Bayard Ellis, basically to say, “I like your second act. Where do I know you from?” So there’s a little bit of a gag there, just to acknowledge the fact that we’re talking about the same world, but I’m playing a different character.

BE: Is it nice to get to work with Belzer again?

AB: It is! I guess I met Belzer at the very beginning of his television career – 1992? – when he transitioned from being a stand-up comedian to being a television star, and, y’know, he’s still doing great work. He’s a fantastic gentleman, and it’s been my pleasure to watch him grow up on television all these years. So, yeah, it’s good to see him again.

BE: Linus, when the mothership ended, were you given the impression that they were going to find a way to bring Michael Cutter back as quickly as possible?

Linus Roache: No, not at all. You know, I was sad when the mothership ended – none of us quite expected it – and I thought, “Well, maybe Cutter might fly out to L.A. to try and pursue Rubirosa,” or something like that. [Laughs.] But, no, it was a nice surprise when the offer came through to bring Cutter back and evolve the character so I’m carrying a whole new load of responsibilities. So it’s been a pleasant surprise and a lot of fun to do.

BE: Was it easy to step back into Michael’s shoes again?

LR: Well, yeah, it was. When you’ve worked on something for that length of time, it’s great to develop something over that period. It was a little like being an old dog in a new area, because obviously the SVU team have been together for quite a while, but they’ve just been fantastic. They’re a great group, a great bunch of actors, so I felt very welcomed, and it was kind of easy to go in. But I’d just say that it was nice to come back to being Michael Cutter, but I’m not the same renegade guy that I was before, because I’ve got this new position as bureau chief and having to carry some of the political responsibility that Sam’s character was carrying when I was sort of shouting at him all the time, saying, “Set me loose, let me do what I want to do!” [Laughs.] So it’s been nice to come back with that little bit of an edge to what I’m doing.

BE: How much do the two of you get to play off each other within the show?

AB: We only get a chance to meet in the courtroom, and consequently our behavior is very much subdued because of that. It’s all about the legal arguments. But it’s pretty clear during the course of the episodes that the first thing on Ellis’s part is the desire to make sure that what happens is what’s just. I would imagine – I won’t speak for you, Linus, but I’d guess for both of us that it’s an attempt to protect what we feel is important. And for me, it’s my defendants.

LR: For us…from the point of view of the prosecution, this all seems like a slam dunk from the beginning, because we find the perp straight away, and we think, “Well, this is pretty straightforward.” And then Andre walks in and says, “This is not going to be straightforward. We’ve got to dot those I’s and cross the T’s and really make sure we’ve done a thorough job. I didn’t realize how interesting this episode was going to be until we started doing it, because, really, you’ve got two truth-seekers coming from different angles. One’s testing the system, and one’s looking after the victim, and both are important. So I think, in the usual “Law & Order” style, it’s going to leave the audience to decide, “Well, who’s right and who’s wrong, and where do we stand in this whole situation?”

BE: You’ve both been on series that didn’t live as long as I thought they should have. Andre, you’ve actually been on a couple of them: not only were you on “Men of a Certain Age,” but you were also on “Thief “as well.

AB: I have a reputation for joining critically acclaimed, low-rated shows that are canceled early. [Laughs.] I don’t know, I’ve always been attracted to a different type of storytelling. I thought “Thief” was something extraordinary, not so much a heist picture but, really, sort of a reconciliation between a father and his daughter. And “Men of a Certain Age,” I’ve never seen anything quite like it on television, but…you know, my bread and butter has always been these kinds of procedurals. I mean, I spent seven years on “Homicide,” and it’s been 15 years since I’ve done another procedural, but it’s in your blood after awhile. So I think I understand that kind of storytelling, I think that Warren Leight and the other producers on “SVU” have confidence that I can help them to tell the story. So this is a good place to be, and I enjoy working on this show. The storytelling is superb, so I’m pretty pleased to be a part of it.

BE: And, Linus, even though I know it opened up the world of “Law & Order” for you, I’m still disappointed that “Kidnapped” didn’t last any longer than it did.

LR: Yeah, everybody was disappointed about “Kidnapped.” [Laughs.]  You know, that was a great show, a great idea, and really well done. But there you go: this is television, and it’s what happens. Sometimes great shows don’t make it. But it was great to do. I’ve been so blessed, as Andre was saying, to be involved in good storytelling. That’s really everything you’re looking for as an actor on television, and that’s why I appreciate the “Law & Order” franchise. You know, every time I get a script, I get excited by the problems it’s dealing with. It’s current, it’s relevant, and it makes it very engaging to do. If I can get paid to do stuff like that, I’m a happy guy.

  

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