The Internet features more than its share of negativity and snark—sometimes you’ve just gotta vent. But there’s plenty of room for love, too. With Fan Up, we ask pop-culture people we admire to tell us about something they really, really like.
Lemony Snicket is best known for his Series Of Unfortunate Events, wherein he chronicles the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, to his enduring despair. His latest book release, Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?, caps Snicket’s All The Wrong Questions quartet, which follows a young Snicket in his pre-Baudelaire, early V.F.D. days. With artwork from Seth and an interactive website paired with the books, the series is classic Snicket for the modern bookworm. We spoke with Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket’s longtime representative (a.k.a. the man behind the pen name) about his enduring love for Law & Order, S. Epatha Merkerson, and the apology he’d like to get from Dick Wolf.
The A.V. Club: Why do you like Law & Order so much?
Lemony Snicket: I don’t know. It’s hard to say why I like it so much. It is in some ways indefensible. My wife and I just purchased the complete Law & Order on DVD because it’s become so difficult to find Law & Order reruns that once seemed to be sprouting on every possible channel. Now you have to dig deeper, which makes us sad. We’re making our way though this DVD set, for whom—I can’t imagine any other audience for such a thing.
Currently we’re interested in S. Epatha Merkerson, who plays—the sergeant, I guess? She’s in charge of the detectives. I have no idea what that’s called. But the detectives go to her and they say, “We’ve interviewed everybody but the wife.” And she says, “Interview the wife.” And they say “Great.” And then they leave, and that’s all great. But what I like is there’s always a shot of her returning to her paperwork. We talk about what a powerful multitasker she must be, because if I were in charge of a murder investigation I would be on pins and needles the whole time. Sometimes she says, “Go arrest him, he killed three people.” And they say “Okay.” And then you see her pick up something from her desk, and you think, “My God, she’s able to compartmentalize that so elegantly.” I would say, “Be super careful and call me the moment you get the murderer,” and, “Oh my goodness, can you believe we live in such a morally corrupt world?” But she just picks it up; she has other stuff to do. It’s very admirable.
AVC: What season are you guys on?
LS: I’ll look. Hold on. I’m crossing to our room where we watch things. We’re on the 13th season. [Laughs.] The box set is enormous, first of all. It comes with a small book of all the episodes, and because we’ve seen so many before we have to mark with a Post-It where we are because it all sounds simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar when described in the book.
AVC: Do you think you’ll be sad when you finish the final season?
LS: We’ll be sad. Then we’ll spend a few weeks doing something else, and then we’ll start again at the first season. That’s my prediction.
It’s really fun to suddenly remember that we’ve seen one before—that we’ve been in a hotel room before flipping channels and have watched one and then we won’t really remember it, so we’ll be watching it and suddenly we’ll say, “Oh, right, it’s the white supremacist, we’ve seen this.”
I like the witnesses a lot—I like when the witness is doing something totally ordinary like stacking strawberries, and they’ll say to her, “So when was the last time you saw him?” Or, “Did she seem angry?” She’ll answer the question and she doesn’t stop stacking strawberries. Sometimes she’ll say, “Well I’ve got to get back to work.” I also think that is remarkable because if I were visited by the homicide police I’d be telling that story for months, I’d do nothing else. I’d say, “You guys, I was stacking strawberries, and they came and they asked me about this guy holding a knife and I told them what I knew.” I wouldn’t just go back to work 30 seconds later. So I have a lot of admiration for the witnesses.
AVC: Do you have a favorite main detective? A preference for Chris Noth over the pretty-boy guy who replaced him?
LS: The pretty boy who replaced him is Benjamin Bratt, who lived in San Francisco for a while and would exercise next to my wife in the gym. So my wife refers to him as her boyfriend, even though of course they never had any communication whatsoever. So I think we have a slight Benjamin Bratt preference, because she says, “Oh look, my boyfriend is solving the case.”
We like [Jerry] Orbach a lot. Right now we’re watching a Fred Thompson season, which is kind of funny that there’s a presidential election upon us with a famous TV star running for office, and it makes us remember that Fred Thompson used to be running for president.
And before Fred Thompson was Dianne Wiest, who was fun. And before Dianne Wiest was an actor I don’t know but he plays Adam Schiff [Steven Hill], and he kind of reminds me of my father, and also my wife and I developed this joke that he doesn’t really work at the office because he seems to just wander in and say to the prosecutors, “Make a deal!” And we like to imagine them saying, “Sir, we’ve told you this before: You do not work in this office. Please do not interrupt us when we are working.”
AVC: Do you watch any of the spin-offs?
LS: We watch some of Criminal Intent for a while because my wife is not faithful to Benjamin Bratt and also has a crush on Vincent D’Onofrio. But the sex one we can’t stand. I find that it has a slightly right-wing anti-sex bias. They’re always saying things like, “Ugh, you’re going to a swingers club?” And I think, “There’s nothing really wrong with a swingers club.” It’s a little sordid, always, the sex one—as would be the case with solving sexual crimes. But there’s something about watching, over and over, a woman in a dumpster or something, that’s way grosser. I don’t know why it’s necessarily grosser than a kid dead in the basement of a building or the other Law & Order crimes, but for some reason we can’t take the sex one.
AVC: Do you have a preferences for the first half of episodes, with the police solving the crime, or the second half, with the lawyers doing their thing?
LS: I think they’re both tailored to my attention span. Just when I’m tired of them solving the crime I get the courtroom drama. I like the courtroom drama in general. If you put a Manhattan in my wife, she’ll say the show ought to be called Order & Law because she thinks that’s actually what happens.
Fran Lebowitz is the judge sometimes. That’s fun. Also we’ve developed the joke that when somebody says “in chambers” that actually means they just want to hang out with the judge and there’s nothing to discuss. Like, “Judge, can we see you in chambers?” Then it cuts to them filing into a room and we picture them going, “Hey, how are you, what’s up? How do you think the case is going?”
AVC: Do you try to solve the case the moment before the detectives do?
LS: We do, but the easiest way to solve it is to wait until the somewhat prominent actor is being questioned. That’s really fun, when Laura Linney says, “I don’t know anything about it.” And you think, “Oh, she did it! It’s so exciting!” Other than that they don’t really give you any clues. You’re learning it at the exact same time as the detectives. You can’t really be smarter than the show, which is one of the things I like about it. It doesn’t actually encourage critical thinking. So it’s very relaxing if you’ve had a long day to watch too many episodes of Law & Order.
I was working with this other writer and he said that he thought episodes of Law & Order was like a well-made meatloaf, but I disagree. I think it’s like a well-made pizza, because you can have fancier meals, but are they really better than a well-made pizza? No they aren’t. Unlike a meatloaf, which I don’t find alluring under any circumstances.
AVC: Was his argument for the meatloaf that meatloaf is straightforward?
DH: It’s kind of basic and comforting. I just don’t find a meatloaf comforting at all. I find it unholy. Also, as a show it doesn’t take any risks. Although I always think it’s silly when people talk about works of culture taking risks. Because there’s not any risk involved.
AVC: As in, the only risk is that maybe some people won’t like it?
DH: Yes. For instance, I know a couple of firefighters, and I feel that they take risks in their profession. But there’s no such thing as a risky TV show, because the risk is they’ll cancel the TV show. That’s just not really—life goes on when that happens.
Do you watch it?
AVC: I used to watch it when it when you could find it just by turning on the TV, but since it went away I haven’t seen it in a while.
DH: It was so magical when it used to be on all the time. My wife and I would watch it when we traveled usually. We’d be at some—I don’t know, librarian convention—and then we’d go back to our hotel room and we’d lie on the bed. We made this gesture—you know how when they show a whole bunch of episodes at once they start the new one the end credits are reduced to a tiny box of the old episode, with the new episodes going right away? My wife and I would both do this thing—I’m sure it’s called something—where we both hold out our arms and then we tap very hard on the other arm as if we’re trying to find a vein. The heroin addict’s gesture. Or the blood doner’s gesture. It’s hilarious to me that they know somehow that my wife and I are so addicted to Law & Order that we won’t even sit through a commercial before starting one again.
AVC: Do you incorporate the “clang clang” into your life at all?
DH: I don’t incorporate it into my life, but I do admire it a lot. I think it’s by Mike Post—the music—so I assume that sound is by Mike Post as well. We talked once about how wonderful it would be to go to the symphony and just hear that performed, that short, two-note melody, by a full orchestra.
Sometimes when my wife and I are doing something boring we feel that we’re about to suddenly discover a corpse, because that’s the first minute of Law & Order. “Anyway, I was saying to the guy, not two basketballs, three basketballs… Oh my god! Somebody call the police!”
AVC: Is that how you think you’d react to finding a corpse?
DH: I think if I were walking someplace and I saw a corpse my brain would tell me it was a million things before I believed it was a corpse. Like if I saw hands, I’d think, “Look at that glove.” When you watch enough Law & Order you think it’s only a matter of time before you discover a corpse and learn this for yourself. Whereas in real life, that probably won’t happen.
AVC: But if it did you’d be prepared from all the Law & Order you’ve watched.
DH: The most exciting thing is that once I met a writer for Law & Order and I told her how much I loved the witnesses and I said I would fly myself to New York at my own expense if she would cast me as a witness doing something menial. She said she would and I never heard from her again.
DH: Yes. So maybe you can raise that signal so I could—well, I guess it can’t happen because it’s not on any more, but, I don’t know, I’d take an apology from Dick Wolf.