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Alynda Wheat's Beat Cop: Hallelujah! It's the real (Jack) McCoy

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Sam-Waterson-Law-Order_lFriday’s more-than-solid premiere of Law & Order tells us one of two things: either creator Dick Wolf is right, and the show has 20 more years of cops and courts left in it, or they’re setting up one hell of a series-ending season.

We all know (mainly because Wolf’s been telling anyone who’ll listen for just about forever now) that tying Gunsmoke’s two-decade record was a major goal. With Friday’s premiere he sets about realizing that goal for this 20th season. And after a series of bumpy transitions among the police and prosecutor ranks (I still think Dennis Farina was a mistake, and wow, Annie Parisse really couldn’t take it for just one season?), it finally looks like the show has the right combination of actors and scripts.

It’s settled, that is, so long as the Lieutenant’s (S. Epatha Merkerson) cancer doesn’t take us down a dark path just in time for the finale. See, this is why I wonder if this really is the final season. Merkerson is the cornerstone of that show. She’s been on longer than Sam Waterston, Steven Hill, even our beloved late Jerry Orbach. They cannot, in good conscience, kill this character off without taking the show with her. Yes, I know, we survived Jerry’s passing, and the show went on. But it wasn’t the same—it still isn’t.

It also looks like either a really great argument for season 21, or a really great eulogy for a show we’ve basically grown up with, that Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) is again being allowed to get his Atticus Finch on. Whatever your politics, you have to admit that there’s a frisson of excitement every time he gets that glint in his eye, the damn-the-consequences square of his shoulders as he explains just how righteous his indignation is. There’s fire and brimstone powering that brilliant legal mind. Of course, the government couldn’t let uppity little McCoy have his verdict. But I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Jack’s wrath, not by a long shot–and happy to say so. This is the kind of material that shows Waterston at his best. Whatever happens, it looks as if the writers are trying to give their two vets Emmy-worthy arcs, and frankly, that works out well for all of us.

Numb3rs

Compared to L&O (it was the same night, so I’m comparing), Numb3rs was a more subdued way to kick off the season. Love that Charlie (David Krumholtz) and Amita (Navi Rawat) and finally making it official, but there’s talent on that show that’s so underutilized (I’m advocating for you, Peter MacNicol and Judd Hirsch). What’d you guys think of the anarchist plot? I was a bit underwhelmed.

As for tonight, we’ve got two kick-offs and they’re opposite each other, Fox’s Lie to Me at 9pm, and NBC’s newbie Trauma. Here’s a quick take on both:

Lie to Me:

Lightman (Tim Roth) has got a full plate in the season opener. He’s supposed to be vetting a Supreme Court nominee, his ex-wife’s moving to Chicago and taking their kid with her, and a girl (Erika Christensen) claims she witnessed a murder…in a psychic vision…even though she’s not psychic. It’s a multi-faceted role for Christensen, and one that she’s carries off capably (though not masterfully, by any means). But I’ll say this for the episode: It wasn’t predictable. None of the arcs concluded as I’d suspected, which is rare. Trust me, it’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I’ve been watching these things since Banacek. SKIP TO TRAUMA IF YOU DON’T WANT A SPOILER One especially nice change, though, is the revelation that Kelli Williams’ Dr. Foster is finally divorced. The whole doesn’t-she-know-her-husband’s-lying-to-her? plot last season undercut the character, leaving her seeming weak and stereotypical–another woman who’s killing it professionally, but whose personal life is a wreck. She has a nice speech addressing the issue that begins to resurrect Dr. Foster, at least for me.

Trauma:

Right off the bat this show gets one of my special awards—the Wheatie—for best use of a helicopter since ER dropped one on Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane)…twice.* I’m not going to spoil it, but seriously, people, they must’ve spent a fortune on this pilot. The freeway wreck you’ve seen in the previews is a nice adrenaline rush too, as is a Bullitt homage in the episode. Basically, this one’s for people who dig Southland or Flashpoint, but wish it had more explosions, or long for an updated take on Third Watch.

Essentially, if you’re DVR-free and forced to choose, I’d go with Trauma to check out the new show. Lie to Me wasn’t a disappointing opener, but it didn’t feel like a crucial one, either. What did you think, Coppers? Did the Law & Order premiere work as well for you as it did for me? Are you still crunching the Numb3rs?

One important bit of business: I’ll be out Friday, so there will be a much-abridged edition of Beat Cop, with an open thread for y’all to talk about The Mentalist, Bones, and whatever else strikes your fancy. We’ll jump on Christian Slater’s latest, The Forgotten, next week. And hey—let’s be careful out there.

*Yeah, I know, they dropped it on him once, having only sliced his arm off the first time. But “dropped” sounded better, and I needed a little poetic license. Bygones?

Photo Credit: Will Hart/NBC