All Lennie's Children

A few afternoons ago I'm trying to make a decision about Goren's Crooked Neck, aka Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Like other parts of the Law & Order juggernaut, its formula driven stories, pacing, and cues get a little old after a while, but, dang, you know: I'll watch Vincent D'Onofrio in just about anything. Especially as he sort of ambles around a room touching and fondling any old thing on a table, counter, or shelf while his partner delivers question after question to the confused maybe-perp. Put Leslie Hendrix's often-snacking medical examiner Elizabeth Rogers in a few scenes, and my VCR is right there. Although the writers unfortunately never seem to leave much space for co-star Kathryn Erbe, she more than holds down her end of the deal.

But last season, my buddy Vinnie collapsed from exhaustion during filming. Not once, but twice—which, understandably, called into question the future of the series. Watching the show, it's easy to miss that D'Onofrio is typically in three dozen or more scenes per episode, often with substantial dialog, blocking, and location work. Considering these shows are kinda famous for shooting 9 to 12 pages of dialog a day, that's a lot of long days. Sure, CI isn't any more location or scene intensive than the other Law & Order shows, but its format centered every episode distinctly on D'Onofrio. The original Law & Order splits the action neatly between two largely separate casts; Law & Order: SVU splits material across a much larger cast. But CI landed largely on one man, and after four seasons he got kinda wiped out.

Well, D'Onofrio reportedly gave up cigarettes, but Dick Wolf (not one to let a spoke fly off the wheel of his chuck wagon too easily) settled on a new strategy: bring back original Law & Order bad boy Mike Logan, played by Chris Noth, to hold down half the CI episodes. D'Onofrio and Erbe will own half the shows, Logan and a new partner Carolyn Barak (played by Annabella Sciorra) will lead the other half. Generally, the teams will alternate back-and-forth, but look for some interaction during sweeps!

And, if Noth's and Sciorra's strong introductory episode is any indication, the new formula may work.

But as I'm experiencing a little bit of existential angst over whether I have time and energy to follow the show when, essentially, the main reason I watch it is cutting back to part-time status, I realize, dang, NBC should run an ad campaign called All Lennie's Children. Lennie being the long-standing Law & Order detective Lennie Briscoe, played by the late Jerry Orbach. Here's why:

  • Chris Noth is now anchoring half of NBC's CI; his character Mike Logan was Lennie's partner for a few years.

  • Benjamin Bratt is now anchoring NBC's new series E-Ring. Bratt played Rey Curtis, Lennie's partner for many years.

  • Jesse L. Martin continues to contribute the "smooth" to one half of the original Law & Order on NBC. His Detective Green was Lennie's partner for many years.

  • Jill Hennessy is still quipping her way through Crossing Jordan on NBC. She played opposite Lennie on the original Law & Order for a couple years as ADA Claire Kincaid.

I mean no disparagement to any of these actors, who have repeatedly shown they're more than capable of delivering strong performances and keeping demographically-appropriate viewers engaged. But some people wonder why NBC is staunchly buried in last place among major broadcast networks…gosh, maybe it's because they're been casting the same people in their primetime lineup for fifteen years?

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