Review: ‘Law and Order Self Defense’

Cop-and-courtroom series "Law and Order" explores the issue of store owner's use of deadly force in self-defense in this well-crafted if predictable episode.

Cop-and-courtroom series “Law and Order” explores the issue of store owner’s use of deadly force in self-defense in this well-crafted if predictable episode.

Recent Greek immigrant and watch-store owner George Costas (Adam Arkin) is arrested for the killing of two would-be burglars and claims self-defense as justification.

But detective partners Phil Cerreta (Paul Sorvino) and Mike Logan (Christopher Noth) disagree over Costas’ guilt. Cerreta believes the hard-working merchant acted correctly in the face of repeated threats and burglaries, while Logan sees Costas as nothing more than a self-appointed executioner.

Episode explores the various issues of self-defense, the right to defend business and property, the right to bear arms and the withering of the American dream.

It also touches competing sympathy buttons, both for working people struggling to make a living and for rights of all citizens, even criminals.

While this series is sometimes able to rise out of the formulaic niche it has carved–notably in the recent “Helpless” episode, which poignantly and realistically portrayed the plight of a police psychologist who was raped by her gynecologist–this episode is strictly by the numbers.

The show’s format is most of the problem, since it follows the traditional, repetitive model of cop shows in which two partners–one old, one young–trundle from witness to witness, slowly piecing the crime together. While this may in fact reflect the drudgery of detective work and is commendable for its refusal to embrace shoot-’em-up violence, it makes for slow TV.

It also is a recipe for wooden, expository dialogue in the hands of any writer less gifted than David Mamet. In a recent episode, for example, a woman explained that her lover had broken off their affair because “his yang got tired of my yin.”

Although a gifted ensemble of New York actors comes close to pulling off this kind of TV Raymond Chandler-speak, they are clearly struggling.

While the series seems to be mostly “Dragnet” without the sparkling dialogue, it does have a steady, insinuating rhythm as it meticulously dissects the different perspectives of a current issue.

What it lacks, with notable exceptions like the doctor rape episode, are character development, believable dialogue and realistic texture.

Law and Order Self Defense

(Wed (11), 10-11 p.m., NBC)


Filmed in New York by Dick Wolf Films, in association with Universal TV; executive producers, Dick Wolf, Joseph Stern; director, Ed Sherin; writers, Rene Balcer, Hall Powell.


Camera, Constantine Makris; production designer, Richard Bianchi; art director, Terese Carriker; music, Mike Post.


Cast: Paul Sorvino, Christopher Noth, Michael Moriarty, Richard Brooks, Steven Hill, Dann Florek, Carolyn McCormick, Christine Farrell, Adam Arkin, Marissa Chibas, Jon Manfrellotti, Frank Savino, Robert Hirschfeld, Christine Farrell, David Lipman, Johnnie Mae, Ron Brice, Peter Yoshida, Florence Anglin, Mick O'Rourke, Andrew Spiker, Wai Ching Ho, Paul Schulze, Phillip LeStrange, Lou Martini Jr., Carol Anne Hansen, Robert Coffin.
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