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'Law & Order' nostalgia recap: New kids on the block

Season 18 | Episode 1 | “Called Home” | Aired Jan 2, 2008

You don’t normally see shows get better at the end, but the final three seasons of Law & Order were pretty brilliant. There was a pop to these seasons that hadn’t been felt in years, thanks to some inspired casting that created one of the series’ best ensembles. With the introductions of Det. Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Executive ADA Michael Cutter (Linus Roache), Law & Order showed up to play—and even the better part of a decade later, seasons 18 to 20 are still just ridiculously entertaining to watch, and far too good not to talk about.

“Called Home” gave Lupo the most unique introduction for a regular cast member—by having him be the brother of the alleged victim. Lupo’s brother Tom, knowing he’s dying, elects to take his own life in an assisted suicide and throws his family into disarray. Not only do we get scenes of Lupo trying to sneak his way onto the case with Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin), but we also see him trying to comfort Tom’s kids and his widow, made worse by the fact that Cyrus used to carry a torch for her.

In this one episode, the audience gets to know both Lupo’s professional and personal lives—and because his brother is the subject of the investigation, also see how the case of the week affects the family in much greater detail than Law & Order normally shows.

Sisto plays both sides of the episode so well, but that’s to be expected from a guy who played Jesus, then went on to fame as a bipolar artist in Six Feet Under. The guy can flip personalities on a dime.

That’s what made him perfect for Law & Order. Anyone would’ve had a tough time stepping in after the brilliant Jerry Orbach, but Sisto went in the complete opposite direction. He had a certain amount of danger in him that hadn’t been seen in the show’s detective ranks before. Mike Logan was reckless, but he wasn’t dangerous. With Lupo, because of who was playing him, you always felt like there was that 1 percent chance he could just go off the rails. He also presented a quandary for newly promoted senior detective Green and boss Anita Van Buren (the stalwart S. Epatha Merkerson), because they couldn’t entirely figure him out either. For a show that’s always talked about as defining the procedural formula, Law & Order was getting great material by coloring outside the lines.

Over in the DA’s office, perhaps the best move Law & Order ever made was not to look for another statesman to fill the vacant District Attorney job, but to promote Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) instead. Over season 17, you could tell McCoy was getting tired of the EADA role, so making him DA instead allowed him to tell us how he really felt. McCoy put some zing back in the DA’s chair that’d been missing ever since the departure of Adam Schiff, and it was perfect for where the character was in his career. (I’ve always maintained that Charlie Skinner from The Newsroom was just Jack McCoy, a few years older and having reached full “get off my lawn” status.)

McCoy’s departure opened the door for the arrival of new Executive ADA Michael Cutter, whom I can only describe as delightfully insane. Cutter made me a Linus Roache fan for the rest of my life, because my jaw just dropped at how many things he was able to get away with. Cutter had the idealism of Ben Stone mixed with the bullheadedness of McCoy, and then about a football field more. In this first episode, he irritates Jack with his bold decisions (not the last time), then makes mincemeat out of Mila Haymes (an underrated Marin Ireland, who’d actually go on to play an equally intense law student in The Divide), whom he’s prosecuting for manipulating another man into committing suicide. The guy is more than a little bit crazy, and Roache is brilliant at bringing that out in all its glory.

(Trivia tidbit: Sisto and Roache had just appeared together in another NBC series, Kidnapped, the year before, while Sisto, in preparation for the role of Lupo, portrayed the defense attorney in Law & Order‘s season 17 finale. So this wasn’t an entirely new situation for either of these guys, and it showed.)

These two characters put an unpredictability and a spark back in Law & Order, where now you didn’t know what was going to happen, or at least how it might get there. They also played well off the returning cast members, who found new dynamics with them (Alana de la Garza as Connie Rubirosa was always underrated as one of the show’s best ADAs, and only got better once Cutter came along). Then the writers just had fun with their new toys. “Called Home” still had that thought-provoking base (in this case, assisted suicide), but it also had great actors all around and a few tricks up its sleeve. Cutter was probably scarred for life from Mila’s father killing himself on the stand to exonerate his daughter.

Season 18 of Law & Order was a shock to the system in the very best way—it took an already great show to a whole new level, and to this day it’s still a joy to watch. Honestly, I’m still a bit annoyed that we never got to season 21.

Law & Order is airing in syndication.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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