The case of Original vs. UK
Law & Order has finally reached our shores, and I’ve been conflicted over whether this is a good thing. The cast is irresistible: Bill Paterson and Harriet Walter have taken on the Captain and DA roles; they’re among my favourite actors and I’d watch anything anything just because it had either of them in, let alone both. Also Law & Order was a great show. On the other hand, remaking episodes that have already been done seemed a bit pointless, and Chris Chibnall, the UK show’s head writer, has a distinctly patchy record over on Torchwood.
And the final product is, indeed, a bit of a mixed bag, but not without its merits. Many of the show’s trademarks are preserved: the ching-ching, the opening voice over (which, like the theme tune, was cut from the American run on Five) and the “these stories are fictional” disclaimer at the end (despite the show’s justifiable boast of ripping its stories from the headlines). The obvious differences are not positive: the UK theme stinks, even without comparison to the original classic; and the camera work is a massive distraction. Nothing wrong with keeping the hand-held cameras, but there’s no need to wave them about. This is L&O, not Homicide; but those HD lenses jiggle away even through the court scenes; if you’re prone to sea sickness, you’re not going to last the episode.
I’m disappointed Paterson is not in the Moriarty/Waterston role; they have always been the show’s stars for me through each change of cast and with Ben Daniels as his assistant we’d have had a great team. Freema Agyeman is the weak link, failing to convince in the Richard Brooks role. Harriet Walter was fine, but with too little to do to make much of an impact. Jamie Bamber tries hard with his Chris Noth impression, but it’s Bradley Walsh (who he?) that really impressed, his quiet fury at the death of the baby, his gentle teasing over his partner’s poor French.
And what of the writing? Chibnall has done a truly excellent job with adapting Care from Robert Nathan and Sally Nemeth’s Cradle to Grave from the original season two. For starters, he deserves credit for how little he has changed. From the size of the bribe (identical amounts in ’92 dollars and ’09 pounds) to Stone/Steel’s opening at the second trial; and where he has made changes they fit perfectly: instead of freezing in New York, the baby dies of carbon monoxide poisoning in King’s Cross; the changed opening scene is populated by engaging character dialogue from strangers (respecting the L&O tradition). The mistranslation halts the trail before the verdict in the UK version, to better keep up the story’s momentum. Chibnall adds a nice line of dialogue where the former tenant tells the officers that she knows the what a pissed bloke smells like “he didn’t smell of booze at all; more like lynx and mouthwash”.
In summary, to my surprise, the UK version of this story pips the original. That’s not to say the Law & Order UK has yet reached anything like the heights of the original at its best; but we must make our judgement only on the evidence presented to the court and in the two tellings of this particular story, the verdict, by a narrow margin, favours the newcomer.
Week 1 Verdict: The court finds in favour of Law & Order UK