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London Calling: 'Law & Order: UK' Premiere Review

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 8th 2010 11:45AM
The 'Law & Order' mothership may have been canceled by NBC last season, but the hardy procedural refuses to die. The curious thing is, the show's London incarnation is even better than the competent but stiff Los Angeles spinoff that recently debuted.

The cast of 'Law & Order: UK' (9PM ET Friday, BBC America) is so terrific that it recalls classic 'L&O' lineups (think Jerry Orbach, Stephen Hill, Sam Waterston). You may well wonder if our nation needs yet another incarnation of 'Law & Order.' But if it's this solid and satisfying, why not?

Granted, if you're not an 'L&O' addict, then none of the spinoffs will do much for you. But if you do enjoy these criminal-justice stories, which sometimes range into prickly emotional and political arenas, there's much to enjoy about the well-made 'L&O: UK.'

Like the original at its best, 'L&O: UK' manages to be both an economically told story about crime and a subtle character drama that allows the actors to do more than merely march through interrogation chambers and courtrooms. Friday's well-crafted case, in particular, has a haunting quality that makes all the characters wonder if justice was really served.

The show follows the familiar format of the US version of the show -- cops catch criminals and prosecutors try to put them away (only those with long memories will recall the cases on display in 'L&O: UK,' which are based on early episodes of the original 'L&O'). The only possible stumbling blocks are the UK accents in all their glorious varieties. If you're very unfamiliar with UK accents or slang, that may trip you up here and there, but it shouldn't prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to enjoying the show.

Fans of sci-fi television may be familiar with two of 'L&O: UK's' cast members: Jamie Bamber, who plays junior detective Matt Devlin, starred as Lee Adama on 'Battlestar Galactica,' and Freema Agyeman, who plays junior prosecutor Alesha Phillips, was the 'Doctor Who' companion Martha Jones.

They do just fine in their roles, but it's the senior cast, which is full of wily and memorable British character actors, that really shines. As critic Alan Sepinwall pointed out, part of the enjoyment of this franchise derives from soaking up the chemistry of various individuals and pairings, and there's not much chemistry yet on 'LOLA.' But 'L&O: UK' has a cast and characters that are full of potential on that front.

As George Castle, the director of the Crown Prosecution Service, Bill Paterson brings a lively energy to the proceedings and is as memorable, in his own way, as Stephen Hill was as DA Adam Schiff. Paterson instantly gives you a sense of who Castle is: An energetic, smart scrapper who had to fight his way to the top and who thrives, to some degree, on argument and confrontation. Yet he's no bully; his terse debates with his staff, who wrestle with a particularly tough child murder case in Friday's episode, are among the high points of the hour.

Ben Daniels has quiet charisma as the smart, stubborn prosecutor James Steel, and Harriet Walter is quite good as the tough yet kind top cop, Natalie Chandler.

But the cast's real standout is Bradley Walsh, who plays senior detective Ronnie Brooks. Ronnie Brooks is the UK equivalent of 'L&O's' regular-guy icon Lennie Briscoe; Brooks is a seasoned detective who has seen a lot and yet still cares deeply about his job. There's a tiny moment in Friday's episode in which Brooks prepares himself to give someone very bad news, and the fact that Brooks has to steel himself to the task shows that the job still gets to him. The scene only lasts a few seconds, but it's masterfully played by the very likable Walsh.

Long story short: Come for the gritty realism, the good acting and the solid storytelling. Stay for the judges wearing funny wigs.

Scheduling note: BBC America broadcasts two episodes of 'L&O: UK' Friday -- Episode 2 of the first season is at 9PM ET and the show's pilot (which first aired earlier in the week) is at 10PM ET.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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This show is pretty epic! Out of all the L&O's that I've watched, this one ranks top three. I still remember how I began watching it! I was at home and nothing else was on TV and this came on. Since anything L&O I'm wiling to watch, I went ahead and tuned in and I haven't regretted it since. The stories are authentic and they feel like something that people would do on a daily basis without the added drama factor. I've been telling anyone that's willing to listen that this is a great show and what makes it even better is I watch it in HD and I don't even have to pay for it. I use the HD Free for Life promotion so I know that I will never pay another penny for the best quality and the best part is that new and existing customers can take advantage of it even if they're using the lowest basic package, the America's Top 120! I love it and since I also work at DISH Network, I am always recommending that people check it out and experience a value unseen by any other provider!


May 09 2011 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sorry the cast does not have the zip and the legal group has none of the passion of Jack mcKoy oereven Ben Stone

October 10 2010 at 6:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you have trouble understanding because of accents, you can turn on your closed-captioned function. Works for me.

October 09 2010 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And frak me that I'm retconning Apollo's voice to match the actor's real accent -- good gods, what he had to suppress.

October 09 2010 at 12:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cgeye's comment
Craig Ranapia

Funny thing is that's not Jamie's actual accent either -- Matt Devlin is East London Irish, and hearing Bamber speak he's slightly more mid-Atlantic (he's lived in America for a long time, and doesn't even own a house in London).

October 09 2010 at 7:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A timely tip: Even if you don't subscribe to BBC America, check your On Demand menu: As with Doctor Who, they're being kind enough to let the episodes out for free viewing.

October 09 2010 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love love love L&O:UK. Bradley Walsh is known for comedy and being on longest running soap 'Coronation Street', and I think this serious role has thrown a lot of people for a loop. I also adore the theme tune. Yay!

October 08 2010 at 9:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

And last thing, much as I'm enjoying this show I'm still annoyed at the clumsy way Martha was retconned out of 'Torchwood: Children of Earth' because Freema Agyeman was unavailable. OTOH, Cush Jumbo was just fine as Lois Habiba.

October 08 2010 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

Another thing: Procedural shows like this, IMO, stand or fall on their casting. Bradley Walsh, Harriet Walter, Ben Daniels and Bill Paterson aren't household names in the US, but they've been doing solid character work in British film and television for a long time.

October 08 2010 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

Great review, Mo - of course, I'd say that because I totally agree with you. :) Another way of putting it is that 'L&O: UK' is no 'Prime Suspect' or 'Cracker' -- there's nothing startlingly innovative or stylish about it, but like 'The Good Wife' or 'Castle' it's a lot more engaging that is strictly necessary.

And something else, while being spoiler-sensitive, I love that the the dreaded "sexual tension" between Bamber and Agyeman's characters doesn't pan out. It's obvious that Phillips and Devlin have an enormous respect and affection for each other -- but it's strictly profession and human. Thank the Gods...

October 08 2010 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought I recognized Jamie Bamber in that pic!

With all the USA remakes of British TV series, it'll be interesting to see how this British remake turns out. I was a fan of the original L&O, so if the new series is anything like it, I will probably enjoy it.

October 08 2010 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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