NBC’s “Law and Order,” which returns for its 18th season Wednesday (on Channel 4 locally), has always been about two things. Its stories are “ripped from the headlines”. (More like cleverly finessed from the headlines, but you get the idea.) And it maintains a seamless revolving door policy to casting that has embraced such New York treasures as Michael Moriarty and the late, dearly lamented Jerry Orbach. (Miss you, Lenny.)
The episodes airing at 9 and 10 p.m. Wednesday introduce us to a pair of new characters played by two of my favs. Jeremy Sisto joins the series as Det. Cyrus Lupo, a counter-terrorism expert who partners up with Jesse L. Martin’s Det. Ed Green after his brother, another NYPD officer, dies mysteriously (episode one). (Sisto replaces Milena Govich, who played the show’s first female detective.)
“You both like to work alone,” observes their boss, Lt. Anita Van Buren, played with pragmatic compassion by S. Epatha Merkerson. “This should be amusing.”
And indeed it is: Martin and Sisto have an easy chemistry. Not for them the forced camaraderie that often mars the buddy-cop genre.
The other new cast member is Linus Roache, who continues the sterling tradition of British actors on American series honed by Hugh Laurie on “House” and Damian Lewis on “Life.” Roache plays new chief assistant DA Michael Cutter, and, oddly enough, owes his job to presidential aspirant Fred Thompson, who, you’ll recall, portrayed wily DA Arthur Branch. Now Branch has departed, natch, leaving Sam Waterson’s Jack McCoy, the former chief assistant DA, to fill out his term. Right away, the show sets up a nice subtext, in which we surmise that the go-hung, rules-bending Cutter was a Branch disciple Ã¢â‚¬â€ and thus, a potential pain in McCoy’s neck.
Meanwhile, the haunted Lupo Ã¢â‚¬â€ another risk-taker guaranteed to give Van Buren some sleepless nights Ã¢â‚¬â€ has been given a good back-story, in which we suspect that one of the reasons he was estranged from his deceased brother was his attractive sister-in-law, who has gotten a job at his precinct. “Law and Order” has come a long way from the days when it was all work and no glimpses into the characters’ private lives.
I was particular eager to preview the series’ return, not only because it’s been one of TV’s most consistent warhorses Ã¢â‚¬â€ in the best sense of that term Ã¢â‚¬â€ but because I had the pleasure of interviewing Sisto and Roache in 2000 (in retrospect, a very good year).
Sisto was starring in the millennial CBS miniseries “Jesus,” and what struck me most, apart from his charm, was the meticulousness of his research Ã¢â‚¬â€ his forensic knowledge, for example, of crucifixion. It’s no surprise, then, that he would make a convincing cop.
The actor’s handsome round features and dark curly hair contrast well with Roache’s fair-haired, angular beauty. I caught up with the personable Roache when he was preparing to play a shrewdly understated Bolingbroke to Fiennes’ poetically blazing Richard in “Richard II” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (They were less effective, cast against type, as the ancient-Roman rivals in “Coriolanus.”)
Part of what made their “Richard II” work was that in potraying cousins, they actually looked as if they were related. Roache told me then that earlier in their careers, he and Fiennes had played half-brothers Ã¢â‚¬â€ the saintly Edgar and the nihilistic Edmund respectively Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in “King Lear.”
But Roache was also stunning as the pivotal character in “The Wings of the Dove,” a superb film of an even better Henry James novel about transcendence achieved through the memory of love and the love of memory.
As with Damian Lewis and, to a lesser extent, Hugh Laurie, film hasn’t always known what to do with Roache. Thank goodness the tube has rushed in where the big screen has feared to tread.