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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Coppers and robbers do brilliantly across the pond

Published: December 3, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

Apparently, “Law and Order: Los Angeles” wasn’t the only Dick Wolf creation to launch this season. Indeed, unbeknown to many viewers this side of the Atlantic, the “Law and Order” creator has launched a new version of the longtime-running crime drama, “Law and Order: UK” in conjunction with BBC America. Thankfully, this new addition to the “Law and Order” family is worthy of the brand.

Those caught up in the current anglophilia that has hit the United States with the simultaneous release of the seventh “Harry Potter” film and the announcement of Prince William’s royal engagement, will get a kick out of this series in which the detectives say words like “bloke” and “sod” and call each other “Neanderthals” for not speaking French while the Crown Prosecutors wear robes and wigs in court and, in one scene, offer a suspect tea before beginning the interrogation.

While it is entirely possible that the novelty of the British legal system—not to mention those accents—could act as a smokescreen to the actual quality of the show, in this case it is simply not so (although the show’s BBC America website does contain a “British terms glossary” for American fans).

Set in London, “Law and Order: UK” retains the original’s form, with the first half of each episode being devoted to the detectives and the second being devoted to the attorneys, or Crown Prosecutors. Similarly, “UK” maintains the familiar grit of the original—the scenes are shot with handheld cameras and cases occur across class lines—but with a definitive British twist.

For example, the preamble of the original memorized by so many avid fans (“in the criminal justice system, the people are protected by two separate yet equally important groups”) is both present and intact in the U.K. version, except for the substitution of calling the attorneys who prosecute the offenders “Crown Prosecutors” instead of “District Attorneys.”

While the theme song of the show is entirely different from the American version, it sets the tone for a show that is like-minded to the original, with the same dignity and grit but in a different city on a different continent.

For crime-show fanatics, it is especially fun to compare the differences between the two legal systems—beyond just the wigs or lack thereof.

The detectives have access to cameras that monitor seemingly every street corner, enabling them to check every suspects alibi—something that would never fly in the United States. Yet while this constitutes what the ACLU would most likely label a gross infringement on civil liberties, there seems to be more care put into ensuring that the Crown Prosecutors have “the bad guy” before going to trial than there is in the original.

Additionally, in the U.K. version, law enforcement officials do not carry guns, making chase scenes all the more intriguing.

Die-hard fans of the original “Law and Order” may not appreciate the change in legal system or venue—after all, I myself have argued that New York City is just as much of a character in the series as the detectives themselves—London proves to give the Big Apple a run for its money.

And while no cops show could every live up to the original, make no mistake: “Law and Order: UK” is bloody brilliant.