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'Law & Order' nostalgia recap: Weird science

Season 18 | Episode 3 | “Misbegotten” | Aired Jan 9, 2008

I love this photo from Law & Order‘s third episode of season 18, “Misbegotten.” It just expresses Michael Cutter’s complete disdain for the situation. This is so clearly a look that says, “I have zero tolerance for your nonsense,” and there’s a lot of nonsense in this episode.

In “Misbegotten,” a pipe bomb is delivered to a science lab and its explosion injures a pregnant security guard. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of reasons why someone would want to blow up a science lab on a TV crime drama. Green and Lupo’s threat assessment eventually leads them to a company called GeneTech, which claims it just does run-of-the-mill testing. Dr. Hoffman (Hey, it’s Grant Shaud from Murphy Brown!) admits that they did botch one set of test results, telling a couple that their healthy child had Down syndrome, which led the couple to abort the baby. This is where we discover that Green is massively opposed to abortion, and that Van Buren doesn’t give a damn about Green’s opinion.

But the controversy train doesn’t stop there. Someone at Hudson University (Did you ever notice that it’s always Hudson University?) tells the cops that Hoffman once received a death threat there, after the not-so-good doctor claimed that he had discovered a gene indicative of homosexual orientation. That’s the kind of idea that makes people angry. Soon enough, Lupo and Green are arresting Dean Emerson (Kevin Rankin), the brother-in-law of the victim.

And because nobody learned any lessons from “Darkness,” it’s the cops’ turn to get everyone into legal trouble. Lupo’s decision to borrow the PDA belonging to Dean’s shrink and email the schedule to himself leaves Cutter’s case open to a motion to suppress. After Cutter can neither convince Jack nor a judge otherwise, it’s time for him to break out his contemplation bat. While he takes swings at an invisible pinata, he sends Rubirosa to find out how the victim got to the crime scene. Her mother tells Connie that she had an appointment with Dr. Hoffman, and the plot thickens. “He was using the victim for a research project, and he didn’t think to mention it to the police,” Cutter says, somewhat menacingly.

Under pressure, Hoffman admits that his research proved Dean Emerson and his sister-in-law’s unborn child both had the “gay gene.” Right suspect, wrong motive … and a sudden pitch from the defense, with Dean willing to plead guilty and take a minimum of 15 years to avoid the embarrassment of a trial. But the DA’s office doesn’t bite, and the trial happens and turns into a melodramatic mess of family issues and “he couldn’t possibly.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, Cutter and Rubirosa visit the hospital and discover that Dean’s brother Ryan has decided to terminate his wife’s pregnancy in the face of this new information about his baby.

The fact that this happens just as Dean’s homophobic father has decided to testify on his son’s behalf is not a coincidence. As Cutter spells it out, “Abort the child in return for perjured testimony to save Ryan’s beloved brother.” With no legal way to prove this cringe-worthy theory, the DAs ask for a last-minute meeting with the defendant and his brother to play the two of them off of one another. “You’re just like Dad, aren’t you?” Dean asks Ryan, while Cutter pressures him to take a deal so that the testimony is no longer necessary. Over his brother’s objections, Dean confesses to the crime.

But Ryan’s not done. He equates having a gay son to having a child with a disease, and the audience finds out that he only elected to postpone the abortion for two days. Unfortunately, there’s no gene for tolerance.

“Misbegotten” is a hot-button story for sure; homosexuality remains a well-debated issue in this country eight years after this episode aired. Yet there are other issues buried in here too, like the long-term possibilities of genetic-information progress that Gattaca illustrated so well all the way back in 1997. The idea of knowing how our kids are going to turn out and what we can or should do about it is another one of those things that people can argue over for a while. It’s one that hits close to home for me, too: If my parents had known that I’d be born handicapped, would they have kept me? Hopefully yes, but nobody ever had to ask that question.

Kevin Rankin does a brilliant job of portraying Dean Emerson; he’s such an expressive actor without saying a lot, like his great performance opposite Jeff Daniels in the final season of The Newsroom, or the work he did on Justified. It’s always good to see him turn up somewhere, and he really drives the subject home.

But on a lighter note, here’s another episode where our heroes are coloring outside the lines. Considering the show is held up as the very example of the procedural model, it’s amusing as all get out that this set of characters has a particular issue with playing along. It was just last episode that Cutter went forward without a search warrant, and now Lupo’s violating privilege. No wonder McCoy is turning into a cranky old man—all he needs is a scene yelling at Cutter to get off his lawn. “Misbegotten” could probably also be called “Misbehaved,” and that’s a good thing when you’re dealing with subject matter as heavy as this.

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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