'Law & Order' looks authentic but lacks substance

September 13, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Law & Order" is not a bad idea: It's half police drama, half courtroom drama.

RTC NBC uses the term "two-tiered drama" to describe the new show, which premieres at 10 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). Tier one is a team of detectives solving a crime. Tier two is a team of assistant district attorneys punishing the criminal. Crime and punishment.

"Law & Order" certainly has the police-drama look. Big-city, neon-lit nights on the streets; plastic foam cups, scarred metal desks, harsh overhead lighting at the precinct house.

It has a couple of seen-it-all-but-dedicated detectives, too: Stocky George Dzundza plays New York City Detective Max Greevey. Christopher Noth plays hisyoung partner, Mike Logan.

And "Law & Order" has the courtroom drama look, too. Weatherworn municipal courthouse, marble corridors and dark, book-lined judicial chambers; plastic foam cups, scarred metal desks, harsh overhead lighting at the assistant district attorney's office.

It has a couple of overworked-but-dedicated prosecuting attorneys in three-piece suits back at the DA's office, too. Michael Moriarty plays Ben Stone. Richard Brooks plays Paul Robinette.

L "Law & Order" has the look, all right. But that's about all.

Tonight's show is about the death of a young woman in a hospital emergency room. She only needed antibiotics for an infection, but was given an injection of another drug onorders from a drunken physician. When the drug interacted with one she was already taking, she died. The hospital tried to cover up the mistake because the doctor responsible is one of the most distinguished on staff.

Greevey and Logan make a case against the haughty doctor. Stone takes it into court. It's an interesting case, but for all the talent between Dzundza and Moriarty, they never get their characters beyond one-note performances of righteous indignation and moral superiority. Since we never knew the victim, it is hard to care about anyone and anything happening on the screen in anything more than an abstract way.

This is series television that looks good but ultimately goes nowhere. They photographed the machine but forgot about its soul.

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