|Index||2 reviews in total|
Twenty years and two successful spin-offs later, it's almost easy to
forget that when it first aired, Law & Order was a gamble on the part
of both series creator Dick Wolf and the network NBC. Since one-hour
(well, 40-minute) dramas weren't very popular in the late '80s and
sitcoms were more likely to get syndication deals, Wolf came up with a
brilliant idea: to structure every episode as if it were made of two
separate segments. As the opening voice-over (an uncredited Steven
Zirnkilton) says: "In the criminal justice system, the people are
represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police
who investigate crime, and the District Attorneys who prosecute the
offenders. These are their stories.".
Though not actually the show's pilot episode (the real one was broadcast a few weeks later), Prescription for Death works very well as an introduction to the series: loosely based on a real case, it begins with a young girl being rushed to the hospital, only to die while receiving medical care. Although everyone says it's the kind of stuff that sometimes happens in a hospital, Sergeant Max Greevey (George Dzundza) and Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) soon begin to suspect something else is in the works, especially after discovering that the on-call surgeon, the well-known and respected Dr. Edward Auster (Paul Sparer), has a habit of showing up at work drunk. The second half of the story focuses on Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) and his assistant Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) as they try to build a case against Auster, under the guidance of D.A. Adam Schiff (Steven Hill).
With no underlying story arc, the show lives simply on the strength of the storytelling and the characters, and it succeeds in both areas: early episodes of the series were very concerned with social issues, and this investigation of the dark side of medical treatment is rather poignant, albeit with a few touches of typically dry humor (most notably coming from Stone). As for the characters, they are immediately convincing thanks to the obvious chemistry between the two duos - Dzundza-Noth and Moriarty-Brooks - and the contributions from Hill and Dann Florek, who plays Captain Donald Cragen (later seen in the Special Victims Unit spin-off) and is at the center of the one piece of character development we get in the episode: Cragen's own issues with booze help Greevey and Logan decide to arrest Auster.
Also notable is another L&O staple, namely its penchant for talented guest stars who later became household names in film or television: this series opener boasts excellent turns from John Spencer (The West Wing) as the victim's father and Ron Rifkin (Alias) as the defense attorney. With an ensemble like that, what's not to love? And it has stayed this way ever since (well, most of the time). Unmissable.
Excellent episode, the original fault (from the true Headline case) was the overworked residents and interns. For the show's usual social commentary it would have been so nice if they had used that material. This would have been better, if they expanded on the case's true facts. The state of New Yorks hospitals was deplorable enough to cause legislation limiting the number of hours per day and days per week that physicians in training can be expected to work. Ironically that was considered to be not believable enough to write about. Disappointingly though they took a cheap shot and blamed it on an alcoholic doctor. Guess that was more believable.
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