Law and Order – Season 1 (1990)


Our Weekly Entertainment Dispatch

A look back on 1990’s New York City justice

Law and Order – Season 1 (1991)

Law and Order is so ubiquitous today that it has become like background noise.  You can turn on the television anytime day or night and there will be some variation of the series playing somewhere.  The original or one of the many spinoffs, it’s always around.  Some may disagree, but I feel that the show has run its course.  We couldn’t even tell you who is playing what role anymore. 


That wasn’t true in in 1990 when the original Law and Order premiered.  For me, it was “must watch” TV.  Looking back recently, the first season of Law and Order still stands up as remembered.  Filmed on the streets of New York, the show captured the city as it was back in 1990-91.  Gritty, dirty, and full of crime.  It showed the early 90’s NYPD as well.  Powder blue shirts and an under siege, get the job done attitude.  The same can be said for the Manhattan DA’s office.  No Alvin Braggs here, just some hard-nosed prosecutors who are willing to take chances.  Quite refreshing. 

This season has some great actors.  Chris Noth is there at the beginning playing long time character Detective Mike Logan.  George Dzundza appears in his only season playing Sergeant Max Greevey.  Dzundza is great here, playing the senior partner in the detective bureau team.  (when Dzundza signed on, the show was supposed to be filmed in LA, he couldn’t take the commute and didn’t want to move his family – hence his quick departure) Dzundza is a voice of experience and wisdom to the hot head Noth.  Mike Moriarty is executive ADA Ben Stone.  Moriarty is excellent, playing hardball instead of politics, and pushing cases to a successful conclusion.  He is complemented by Richard Brooks at ADA Paul Robinette. There is a laundry list of famous names in this inaugural season.  You can catch William H Macy as an Assistant US Attorney, Samuel L Jackson as a defense attorney, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a strung-out perp. 


Dick Wolf made his name as the creator of Law and Order.  After winning awards as a writer for Hill Street Blues, he ventured out on his own.  A good move.  He hit a home run with Law and Order and followed up with the “Chicago” series of shows.  The first season of Law and Order certainly has a bit of the Hill Street Blues feel as Wolf again captures the atmosphere of a police precinct perfectly.  Organized chaos; phones ringing, people yelling, perps acting out, and some very disturbing conversations.  It made us feel right at home.

In this opening season, Wolf has already adopted the “ripped from the headlines” writing motif.  Back when crime was out of control in New York, there was plenty to pick from.  The pilot episode, Everybody’s Favorite Bagman mirrors a corruption scandal that shook New York City.  Wolf builds the plot around the real-life New York Parking Violations Bureau scandal of the late 1980’s involving Queens Borough President Donald Manes.  He adds some significant drama and creativity to the story – something that seems lacking in later Law and Order episodes.

The first season of Law and Order consists of 22 episodes.  They are all quite good.  Wolf covers a variety of important topics from race relations, public corruption, police use of force, poverty, and crime.  We couldn’t find the first season for free, and haven’t seen it on TV in a while, but you can rent them on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Apple TV and other services for about $2 an episode.  It’s worth checking a few out or just buy the whole season.  It will take you back to pre-Giuliani New York City and the formula that made Law and Order a decades long hit. 


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