Disclaimer: This post is based on the first two seasons, which I saw.
“Law & Order: UK” (2009- ) is a British adaptation of the American television show “Law & Order” (1990-2010). As in the American version, each show features a murder, which we learn about bit by bit from two police detectives in the first half hour and then follow into court with two lawyers in the second half.
British adaptation: They chose the best American scripts that would mean the most to British audiences and then rewrote them as they would play out in London with British characters and procedures. It is not as different as Americans might expect: there are judges, juries, witnesses, police evidence, police corruption, cross examination, bond hearings, etc.
Flat characters: Just as I followed actor Sam Waterston from “I’ll Fly Away” (1991-1993) to the American “Law & Order” back in the 1990s, so I followed actress Freema Agyeman from “Doctor Who” to the British “Law & Order” in the 2010s. In both cases their character became much flatter. In part because “Law & Order” is heavily plot driven, in part because it tries to do a police show and a courtroom drama all in one hour. There is not even time for a proper chase scene.
The main characters are noble but boring. They are model employees: they have no outside life. Their love lives, family lives, even rape and alcoholism, lie well in the past.
Even worse, for a show like this, the fight between good and evil lies not within their souls. They lack morally complexity – even when they have to destroy old lovers in the witness stand or out a beloved but dirty police officer.
What makes the show interesting are not the characters but the search for truth by the police and the fight for justice by the lawyers – despite the many things that stand in their way.
View of justice: Not only are the police and the courts imperfect and sometimes screw things up, they often have to deal with issues they were not designed for, like mental illness where guilt and innocence are beside the point. On the other hand, the police and courts are nearly always the good guys. Everyone regardless of race or class is equal before the law. That is so not believable.
Racism: Mainly limited to working-class characters who are openly and violently racist. The lead lawyer, however, does understand that his judgement can be clouded by racial prejudice. Little on police racism: police brutality, racial profiling, etc. Freema Agyeman’s character is a token and is rarely subjected to racism or sexism. The show fails the Bechdel Test for race and gender massively.
Language: As the show progresses it moves up the class structure and the English becomes easier for me as an American to understand: the accents become more RP, the word choice becomes more formal – “squaddie” becomes “soldier”, “Old Bill” becomes “the police”, etc.
- Freema Agyeman
- American Violet – a far more believable police/courtroom drama even though it pulls out a miracle ending, which it can get away with because it was true.
- I’ll Fly Away – one of the best television shows ever. Morally complex characters. Deals with racism head-on.
- The Bechdel Test and Race – white men are not the centre of the universe – they just seem that way in film and television where they control whats gets made, what counts as “a good story”.
- RP: Received Pronunciation
- just world doctrine
- The police
- racial profiling