Anne’s Note: So if you haven’t already noticed, I use a relatively colloquial definition of the word “pilot.” What I really mean is the first episode of a given television show to air, the one that introduced the general public to that show’s world. This is because the “pilot,” as in the episode produced to demonstrate a show’s concept so that executives can say yay or nay to more episodes is not always widely available for public consumption. Sometimes networks green light the show but then change a bunch of stuff and that initial proof-of-concept never sees the light of day, and I refuse to let such shows escape my wrath of pilot scrutiny.
Why am I just saying all of this now? Because Law & Order is a weird example of a show where that proof-of-concept pilot DID air, but not as Season 1, Episode 1. That would be “Everybody’s Favorite Bagman” which originally aired as Season 1, Episode 6 on Oct. 30, 1990. Amazon lists this episode as the pilot, and had I not known any better, that’s what I would’ve watched. Lucky for you, I fell into a rabbit hole of Dr. Mike reaction videos to Grey’s Anatomy, and so that lead to Googling Libby Zion, which lead to me learning that her case was the inspiration for a far more interesting sounding episode of Law & Order, “Prescription for Death.” That is the one that NBC chose to air first as Season 1, Episode 1, and so it’ll be the one we talk about today in order to stay consistent with all the other Season 1, Episode 1s I did for the first 74 days. If such a scenario has already come up and I was unaware, I apologize.
When it was originally on: 1990-2010
Original network: NBC
Where you can stream it now: Law & Order is not included in any subscription plans at the time of this writing. However, you can purchase individual episodes for $1.99 each on Amazon Prime, which is how I watched this one. Amazon has Seasons 1-2, then seasons 16-20.
Why I picked it: Is there any police or legal drama on today that does not in some way draw inspiration from Law & Order? Something about this show just seems to eclipse any similar shows that came before it. Even though the original incarnation of Law & Order went off the air ten years ago, I still feel like the show is more iconic than any other cop show on today.
Since I love doing television staples like cop dramas in these projects, Law & Order was a no-brainer. Much like I did all my medical shows in one fell swoop a few weeks back, we are now squarely in cop drama week. I’ve already done Hill Street Blues and Twin Peaks, and Law & Order appears to be the missing link between these older cop shows and the more modern incarnations of them.
What I liked: I love how this episode isn’t a true “murder mystery.” A lot of the questions of the episode aren’t about who killed our victim and why, but instead about whether or not accidentally killing someone out of negligence should be forgiven or punished to what extent. They’re deeper philosophical quandaries about ethics and morality and how society should go about protecting those values. That helped maintain my interest throughout the episode, even long after you understand who killed the victim and how it happened.
As I write about these different cop shows, I’m learning that one of the biggest ways you can differentiate yourself from the pack is in which cases your show will tackle. X-Files does this quite well. It does a great job of establishing that every case we see is going to have some supernatural unexplained phenomena, and so we know what to expect moving forward. Picking this particular case for Season 1, Episode 1 of Law & Order works so well because it establishes what we can expect from this franchise moving forward: cases that aren’t cut-and-dry, where reasonable people can sympathize with different sides of the conflict. If there’s one thing that makes me want to revisit the Law & Order franchise, it’s this curiosity for their cases.
What I didn’t like: This episode is pretty much devoid of any personality. Everyone speaks in the same sterile, academic tone and no one really sticks out as a unique personality different from anyone else. Sure, they maybe have disagreements about some things, but it always comes off as a thought experiment in a classroom, never two people who are fundamentally different at their very cores. Even the cops and the lawyers sound essentially the same. The premise of Law & Order so easily lends itself to rivalries between the two sides, or the exploration of what kinds of people become cops vs. what kinds of people become lawyers. But no. We get none of that.
That more academic tone also means the episode often gets too cerebral for its own good. We don’t get any real human emotion. Especially doing this the day after the Twin Peaks pilot, it’s all too noticeable that we don’t really watch anyone cry over the dead person. The characters we’re following are so emotionally removed from the situation itself that lack of any real feelings or compassion towards the characters was stark, and the difference between these two are night and day.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: If Law & Order had better streaming availability, I’d definitely be inclined to check more episodes out. It’s an interesting show and gives you tons of freedom to pop in and out as you feel like it with no need to commit to binging.