Sunday, May 6, 2007

30 Years of Law & Order: Part III - Aye Cap'n

The following is part 3 of a 51 part series on "Law & Order". Other parts can be seen here:
What makes a good police captain? Historically, television (a.k.a. The Truth) has taught us that there are a few traits that a police captain must have:
  1. The ability to go on a tirade, spawned by a general disdain for a rogue, hot-shot detective.
  2. Some sort of medical condition, preferably an ulcer or a heart-condition. This should be treated by handfuls of non-descript pills washed down with Scotch.
  3. Either a multiple divorcee, or an Irish Catholic devoted father of 7.
  4. Without question, the captain is male. Chicks don't get ulcers.
We are pleased to say that Law & Order bucks the trend in this category. The role of Police Captain probably has the least impact of the 6 major characters on the show, but at times is called upon for a one-liner to close a scene, or to advance the story line when the detectives seem out of options.

Comparing Donn Florek (Capt. Donald Cragen) and S. Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Anita Van Buren) is similar to the Stone-McCoy issue; Florek was only on the show for the first 3 seasons, and Sepatha has become the longest-running active cast member. If possible, look past the pictures for our takes on each character.

Coovo's take:
It shocks me to know that Cragen was only on the show for three years. Upon further review, it was four years (1990-1993), but still a short time. It always seems like the originals were there longer than they were.

It took me a while to warm up to Cragen. Dan Florek's previous TV character was some whiny dude from LA Law. I hated that guy and it ruined my interpretation of Cragen. Cragen. I love the way it rolls off my tongue. Nice and Irish.

Van Buren is all balls, well, except for the obvious. She took the police to court after she thought she was passed over for the promotion. She always stands up to the males who try to put her in her place. However, except for a few shows, she just seems to have few lines. They're all something like, "That's strange, why don't you go back to the neighbor's alley and canvas it."

The question is, are we allowed to judge Cragen on his work in the SVU, where in my opinion, he is one badass captain and is making the world safe from pedophiles and rapists. If the answer is yes, I go with Cragen. If the answer is no, I go with Van Buren, because I just can't get that LA law dude out of my head.

Roller's take: Halle Berry is hot. They should do a Law & Order spinoff called like... "Law & Order: Halle Berry Swimsuit Edition". Every episode would have to have some horrible pun title like "The Court of Sex Appeals" or "Behind Bras". Florek has this look on his face like, "She gets her picture with Halle Berry, and I'm in suspenders?"

Anyway, Capt. Cragen was great because he was always stressed. Not so over-the-top as outlined in the intro to this column, but he always had a furrowed brow, and always answered the phone "WHAT?!?". I can't say the show skipped a beat when his character was replaced by Van Buren, but he was good; what you expected out of an NYC police captain.

I was never felt strongly one way or another on Anita Van Buren. She lacked the fire that I thought a police lieutenant would have, although in some scenes that quality has actually scored points with me. I've seen a few episodes where she gets some one-on-one time with the accused, a racist or a psycho, and her moral high ground approach was refreshing.

In the end I gotta go with Van Buren. It's kind of like having Nel Carter run the Detectives Unit, and in a fight Cragen wouldn't last 2 rounds against Nel.


Ryan said...

Niiiiiice. I think Van Buren is pegged as the more intellectual, but Coovo hit it right on. Most of her lines are stupid: "Well, pull all the open pedophilia files from the past 6 months and let me know what you find." Duh.

I gotta go with the other guy, even though I don't even remember him.

Although, I think Dooley would be an interesting chief. Easy going, the cops like working for him, probably is never sure exactly what is going on, but knows how to crack the whip and is a great cusser.

Coovo said...

Dooley? Sean Dooley? Maybe, if the squad were all female swimmers.

Some of Van Buren's one-liners are pretty good, especially when she has to deal with McCoy or other all-knowing attorneys.

It's hard not to judge Cragen without factoring in his SVU work, which you obviously aren't familiar with since you don't remember him. Pity.