A lot of the messaging around NBC’s revival of Law & Order has involved the idea that it’s a “great time” for the show to return, given all the grim shit happening in our country that pertains to the justice system. New showrunner Rick Eid said as much in a recent Variety piece on the revival, saying the murders and mysteries have always been secondary to Law & Order because it’s really “a show about society,” using murder as “a way into examining various political, social, and economic issues from several different perspectives.”
The question, then, is if Law & Order will actually go far enough into examining the political, social, and economic issues of the day by suggesting that… maybe cops are bad sometimes. Or most of the time. Or all of the time. There have been dirty cops in the decades of Law & Order shows, there have been murderer cops, there have been cops who do the “right” thing in the wrong way (cough Elliot Stabler cough), but it’s rare that the franchise has ever considered the fact that the policing system is just broken. (The same can’t really be said for the lawyer side of things, though, since there are often bad guy attorneys on the defense.)
Sam Waterston, who took some convincing to return to the show but is now fully on-board, seems confident that the new Law & Order is absolutely going to be starting some arguments—or, as he put it, it will be contributing to “the general conversation.” Waterston says the show isn’t “shying away” from “divisive issues,” and, in fact, he says the “goal” of the series hasl ways been to “get people throwing their shoes at the television.”
He teases that there are “issues that are going to infuriate people and frustrate people about how they turned out,” but he sees the show as providing a “useful service” in confronting issues and offering “a resolution of some kind that you can chew on.” He seems to be specifically thinking about a somewhat underrated trope of Law & Order storytelling, where the seemingly airtight and convenient conclusion is undone by some last-minute twist—some unforeseen tragedy that unfolds from the central mystery or a follow-up mystery that, due to the episodic nature of the show, is never resolved.
Confronting real-life police issues like that would be kind of an easy cheat for Law & Order, and while it would be nice to get anything else out of a show that—as much as it likes to think otherwise—has always been a major source of TV “copaganda,” it seems a little unlikely. Luckily, the new Law & Order isn’t too far off: It premieres on February 24.