Law & Order: UK: Season 2
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Law & Order:UK: Season 2

It is certainly not unusual for a successful television series to foster a spinoff. In the case of ‘Law & Order’ its success and spin offs produced. With a record setting twenty year original run, perpetual run in syndication and some half dozen direct spin off series few shows can even approach the popularity this series has generated. Show creator Dick wolf has taken a unique concept and turned it into a redefinition of the oldest genres on television. He took two perennial favorites, the cop thriller and legal drama and blended them into a series where every episode covers both the investigation of the crime through the disposition of the prosecutor’s case. Like the blending of chocolate and peanut butter this unlikely combination has become an overwhelming phenomenon. A few years ago the franchise reached for another distinction to add to its myriad of accolades; and international spin off. With ‘Law & Order: UK’ Wolf reverses the trend of American TV series being ‘inspired’ by popular British shows. This series will not remain something just for our English cousins to enjoy. With the increased proliferation of BBC America available through local cable providers we can see the original episodes in constant syndication on TNT and Netflix then check out the British take through BBC America.

Contractually Wolf was obligated to launch the new series be reinterpreting proven fan favorite episodes through the prism of British culture. The series has moved on from those choice selected stories but there is a noticeable and understandable delay in the episode’s transit across the pond so we have a ways to go before we get to watch those entirely original episodes but considering what I’ve seen so far they are well worth the wait. One of the most fascinating aspects of ‘Law & Order: UK’ is the insight it offers into the societal and cultural difference between two countries separated by a common language. While I have a great deal anticipation to see the completely new episodes I find it compelling to watch the episodes we have seen so often through a different set of sensibilities and experience. It would have been exceptionally interesting for these DVD sets to include some of the behind the scenes machinations involved in the cultural adaptations. Reportedly there were some heated discussions sparked by the differences between the American and British legal systems that extend far beyond the use of powdered wigs in the Queen’s court. The familiar thumping sound is present as well as the trademark Wolf style of presentation but it is surrounded by some elements that will seem of to us in the States. This extends from the use of the British location designations such as W1K5QB, which is analogous to our Zip codes. I had to consult with a friend who lived some time in London to decipher this usage for me. Then, of course, there is the difference in the language particularly the commonly used slang that may take a little getting accustomed to. We all know a significant portion of this like loft for elevator, mate for friend and fag for cigarette so this is not a deal breaker for the general enjoyment of the stories.

The other side of the coin here serves to demonstrate the true brilliance of Wolf’s underlying premise. The elemental factors that propelled the original series to record breaking longevity are well represented here. For the most part there is little if any focus on the personal lives of the primary characters. What is revealed is nicely restricted to the kind of information that would naturally be exchanged by close co-workers. This places the emphasis where it belongs on police procedures for the first half of each episode followed by the legal maneuverings surrounding the case offered by the Crown Prosecutorial Service. The ultimate effect of this stylistic direction is to prevent the show from being mired down by soap opera indulgences that has ruined many similar series. This series like, like its predecessor, concentrates on the original principles behind the classic police and legal dramas, the procedures. It is intended as a glimpse behind the scenes to the real sort of work done by the police investing the crime and the prosecutors seeking to bring the criminals to justice. In this format there is no room for diverting the stories to cozy shots at home or out of the work environment. When combined with the track proven camera work and repartee that has served Wolf so well in the past you have a fresh reworking of a strong concept. This is precisely what the term ‘reimaging’ should refer to. The character dynamics in both portions of the series remain pretty much the same as established here. The seasoned veteran detective Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) always ready with a Bon Mot juxtaposed with his younger, impulsive partner Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber) who tends to go on gut instincts. Then in the courtroom this format is mirrored with the more experienced Crown prosecutor, James Steel (Ben Daniels) and is insightful co-consul Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman). The casting is well designed to help make the translation to over here. Bamber spent four seasons as Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama on ‘Battlestar Galatica’ while Ms Agyeman played Martha Jones, one of the companions for the tenth incarnation of Sci-Fi icon, ‘The Doctor’ on Doctor Who.

The stories used in this second season represent the usual eclectic mix of cases ranging from a homeless man with bipolar disorder unable to give proper testimony to the theft of a kidney to save the daughter of a wealthy, powerful man. Consistent to current BBC formatting the season is only six episodes but they do represent some of the better stories presented in the American series. One major difference in police work over there is the police’s reliance on the multitude of CCTV, close circuit television cameras that capture even the most mundane events as they happen, placing a different spin on the investigatory flow. Over there the Miranda decision is not valid but the British courts have established a Right to Silence’ warning that serves pretty much the same purpose:

"You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence."

The bottom line is this series is better than much of what has survived here and thankfully it’s been released on Region One DVDs.

n the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime, and the Crown Prosecutors who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

Posted 12/04/11

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