Yes, A Cup of Tea Would be Nice, Thank You

Jennifer and I have just finished watching the first series of Law & Order:UK. I love well-done police procedurals, and the Law n’ Order franchise is Dragnet with lawyers — the cops are almost always virtuous, the perps are almost always guilty, and the lawyers all act above board except when they have to in order to get the baddest of bad guys. It’s a fantasy, and I understand it as such. But still a fantasy.

And while all the scripts for the first series of L&O:UK were drawn from the various NYC flavors (so much so that I found myself going, “I’ve seen this before” even though I know I hadn’t), there were some intriguing differences that I think worked in the UK show’s favor.

  • Wigs. I love the wigs lawyers have to wear. I wish American lawyers had a standard dress, and something somewhat outlandish and anachronistic on their heads. Dead squid? Live squid? And I thought judges had to wear even sillier wigs that look like long sheets of individually wrapped mattress coils? What gives?
  • “How about a nice cup of tea, then?” Lenny Briscoe would never ask that of someone he was interrogating. Elliott Stabler certainly wouldn’t. (Robert Goren might.) Detective Sergeant Ronnie Brooks is a very disarming character, a sweetly disarming character, very Columbo-esque, and not someone I’d worry too much would smash my head into a wall. 
  • Ethnically Diverse. Americans pride ourselves on ethnic diversity, but the NYC L&O universe is still pretty white (especially where senior people like judges are concerned) and the UK version makes the US flavors look almost white supremacist at times.
  • CCTV. I dislike even the very idea of cameras watching everyone everywhere, but it is interesting to see how they play out in fantasy UK police work. and how central video footage is to just about every UK story.
  • Rights. First, it’s interesting how much the rights a UK police officer reads a suspect are to the US Miranda Warnings. Second, it’s even more interesting how in the UK L&O universe police officers are better at reading rights to those they arrest (every time or almost every time). I don’t recall hearing many US L&O cops give the Miranda Warning upon arrest. (I memorized it as a kid watching reruns of Dragnet and Adam-12.)