Every television season we subjected to a new batch of cop and/or law shows (typically in addition to medical dramas, though not too many of those have snuck in this year considering the run of them there was last season).  There seems to be inexhaustible demand for them, probably mostly because the cases are the most intriguing part of the procedurals and the characters have to be just interesting enough to frame the story.  Since we’ve already looked at Hawaii Five-O, let’s look at one law show (Outlaw), one cop show (Detroit 1-8-7), and one that splits the difference (Law & Order:  Los Angeles).

“Following the rules doesn’t always lead to justice.” –Cyrus Garza

With Outlaw, we have the ridiculous premise of a conservative Supreme Court judge who quits the bench in order to go into private practice and pick the cases he wants in order to fight for the ordinary citizen.  The ridiculousness of the premise is supposedly leavened by the fact that said justice, Cyrus Garza (the great Jimmy Smits, NYPD Blue and The West Wing), feels guilt over the death of his liberal crusading father … and has made more than his share of enemies on the bench and has a womanizing and gambling sides to him.  Somehow we’re to imagine that life in private practice would afford him more protection that, say, sitting on the most powerful bench in the land.  The show pins itself to Smits’ likeability and charisma, which makes for a better anchor that his forgettable supporting cast (the bulk of whom are there to lower the target demo of this show).  As for the writing, well, it likes to remind us that Garza is an “outlaw” the way Senator McCain enjoyed tossing around the word “maverick”.  But we love the idea of being renegades, of thinking the rules don’t apply to us as long as we’re working toward the greater good.

“Every murder tells a story.” –Narrator on Detroit 1-8-7

Detroit, home of Motown, 8 Mile, and Eminem, is the setting for Detroit 1-8-7.  Starring The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli as Detective Louis Fitch, ABC has a shot at launching a successful police procedural, a slot which has remained vacant since the days of NYPD BlueDetroit 1-8-7 even has another NYPD Blue alum, James McDaniel as Sgt. Jesse Longford, a 30-year veteran on the verge of retirement.  Anyway, Fitch imbues his odd detective with believability as he meets his new partner, a rookie detective (Jon Michael Hill) who talks too much.  Fitch is a double edged sword:  he unnerves perps with his intense stare and sustained silences and rubs his colleagues the wrong way with his anti-social tendencies.  The cast is diverse, taking another hint from Homicide:  Life on the Streets, and has hints of humor to smooth out its often dark vibe.  Detroit 1-8-7 has a vibe somewhere between Homicide:  Life on the Streets and The Shift, probably because Detroit 1-8-7 was originally conceived to be seen through the eyes of an ever present documentary crew (a la The Office).  But that has been abandoned.  The remains of the procedural hint at a show that isn’t groundbreaking, but can be a standout vehicle for its ensemble.

After twenty years, Law & Order signed off.  Though Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) will have to hold down the New York fort, the latest franchise hopes to wring the grime from L.A./Hollywood.  The Law & Order franchise has always had its emphasis on the procedural aspects of the show in that, with the exception of Special Victims Unit, the process of the show has always been larger than its actors/actresses.  Dick Wolf has famously had a revolving door of cast changes on his shows.  The formula remains the same:  detectives we know little about pursue cases “ripped from the headlines”, and name drop locations about town.  Then the case is turned over to the lawyers for some mighty fine speechifying.  It hits every traditional note one expects from Law & Order, just with new scenery.

“People say there’s not justice.” –Cyrus Garza

What is it within us that gives rise to this need for justice? C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, makes an argument for a Law of Human Nature, those laws of right and wrong written onto men’s hearts. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) After all, ethical disputes presuppose some common standard of human decency.”

However, as we look around at the people around us, we’re disturbed by how men actually behave versus how they ought to behave. Even at our best, we struggle with the already/not yet tension: that we are already redeemed, though not yet fully redeemed. Already holy, not yet fully holy. Something in us tells us that there is a standard of behavior that we ought to adhere or at least aspire to. And if there is some kind of code written into each of us, the fact that we don’t live in a state of lawlessness still points to a Lawgiver. So on the one hand, there will be ultimate justice; while on the other, Jesus is our Advocate (1 John 2:1), pleading our case before the Father like a defense attorney.

In the pantheon of great cop shows, The Wire, The Shield, Homicide: Life on the Streets reign supreme.  NYPD Blue and Hill Streets Blues will always be known for their groundbreaking work.  Pilots aren’t the show, but more of the promise of what the show might become. None of these new shows threaten to break new ground or even threaten the pantheon.  Detroit 1-8-7 is the most interesting of the bunch.  Law & Order:  Los Angeles has legs if only for the weight of the franchise.  Outlaw, no matter how bright Jimmy Smits’ star power, will probably be the first casualty of this lot.