Friday, July 23, 2010


I know the news that Law & Order was cancelled, just one season shy of beating Gunsmoke's record, is months-old, but I'm still reeling from it. As a member of the Ess fam, I was pretty much raised on its various incarnations. Over the years, I'm sure I've watched hundreds of hours of the original Law & Order and successful spin-offs Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent. (I've also watched more hours than I care to admit of the many unsuccessful spin-offs launched over the years.) You may like your Farmville or your Sims or your World of Warcraft, but I have always preferred the Law & Order universe as my mythical world of choice. I will concede, however, that like those other fantasy worlds, the New York City of Law & Order operates according to different rules than real life. Here are a few of my observations:


I find it strange that, although it is clear the same Law & Order universe covers all three shows, only one person (Det. Mike Logan) that we know of was ever promoted from Homicide (Original L&O) to the Major Case Squad (Criminal Intent), and he was like the most troublesome Homicide detective ever. Can’t the union do something about this?

If you are considering becoming a detective in the Law & Order universe, be forewarned that, if you have no real personal life, it will stay that way. Even worse, if you do have a personal life, it will fall into complete shambles. No exceptions. But while the job will leave you no time for your family, it will apparently provide you ample free time to become an arts, culture, psychology, conspiracy, club scene and linguistics expert.

If you are a detective in the Law & Order Universe, here are a few notes I've gathered about perps that could help you solve your case:
  • If a high-powered male judge or politico shows up in your case file, he probably molested a family member.
  • If a high society matriarch shows up in your file, she probably had someone killed.
  • If an urban youth admits to killing someone, take sympathy; he only did it due to (a) a misunderstanding, (b) justifiable vengeance, or (c) being under the psychological control of another.
  • If a right-winged religious person shows up in your case file, he or she likely killed someone in the name of advancing his or her cause. Whatever you do, do not point out the ideological discrepancy between the suspect's beliefs (goodwill to men) and actions (murder) during the investigation. The D.A. will be so mad if you do, because she likes to spring that one at trial, causing an emotional breakdown on the stand.
  • If an old friend of yours “from the academy” or when you were “working the beat” shows up, he probably killed someone.
  • If a wheelchair-bound person shows up in your case file, he or she is likely faking the extent of his or her disability.
  • It pains me to say it, but if someone who experienced a personal loss during 9/11 shows up in your case file, he probably killed someone.
  • The person in your case file who most closely resembles a famous actor did it. If two people in your case file happen to resemble famous actors, the one who resembles the more famous of the two did it.

And here are some other notes for detectives in general:

  • If you are a woman, you are not allowed to have a female partner.
  • The upside of being a female detective, however, is that you get to dress business casual while your partner wears a suit and tie. Men can only dress down if they previously worked for the Narcotics Squad or are classically-trained musicians.
  • But the most important tip I have for any detectives is not to worry: you will most likely have a 100% solve rate. You have proven time and again that you can handle a case better than the Feds. And when it comes to cold cases, you only crack them, you never file them.

A few notes about the Law & Order courtroom that differs from my experience:

  • Criminal defendants always testify in their own defense despite their right to decline to do so, inevitably opening themselves up to ruinous cross-examination.
  • A lawyer is permitted to make repeated outlandish editorial comments without reprimand by the court so long as he or she offers a snarky “Withdrawn!” immediately after objection is raised.
  • Prosecutors have no duty to turn over evidence to the defendant that was discovered during trial.
  • Prosecutors frequently engage in elaborate play-acting ruses with the detectives and witnesses meant to entrap the defendant into making a confession.

If you live in the Law & Order universe and are not in the mood to discover a dead body, you should avoid the following high-risk activities:

  • Sneaking off (from work, the office party, your babysitting job, etc.) to make out with someone;
  • Working a blue collar job (especially in the sanitation [for men] or janitorial [for women] fields) and gossiping with your coworker about your relationship woes;
  • Discussing the results of “the game” with a friend;
  • Taking children to Central Park;
  • Hanging out with other people;
  • Using telescopes;
  • Cracking jokes;
  • Opening doors; and
  • Looking out windows.

If you do find yourself in the unenviable position of being a material witness to a homicide case, don’t worry. You can always get out of extensive questioning by having someone call your cell phone, hand you something to sign or otherwise interrupt the conversation and then saying to the detectives, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to take this” as you walk away. They’ll just give up and move on. It will never occur to them to say “Don’t worry, we’ll wait.”

However, if it turns out that you are more than just an innocent witness, that you may, in fact, be a suspect, you should immediately go through your house and workplace and glue down all trinkets and valuables using an industrial-strength epoxy. Because, you see, the detectives will come to your home or office and, while they’re talking to you, they WILL try to move those things around just to mess with you. And it WILL mess with you!!

And one final observation: unlike real world statistics, nearly half the women in the Law & Order universe are redheads. Major Case Squad almost exclusively employs redheads (see below). However, they all tend to grow blonder with age. So if you're a redhead that doesn't want to go blond, maybe you should switch to bottled water or something.


  1. Oh my gosh, this is a classic. Even being a "casual" L&O watcher over the years (my favorite version is CI) I can appreciate enough of these insights to love it. Although I can't believe this isn't how things work in real life; come on!

  2. I loooove this post. We watch all of the L&Os pretty religiously in this house. This was so good.

  3. Oh ... I hear you sister. I have made it a firm rule for many years now not to sneak away from work and go makeout with someone and have now expanded that rule to include not hanging out with anyone. Period.

  4. My secret shame is that every time I'm walking home at night with friends there is a teeny tiny part of me that is convinced we are going to find a dead body.

  5. Uh, did this guy totally steal your ideas?