Thursday, August 14, 2008

Law & Order’s Deadly Dialogue

I don’t watch much television, mostly because I don’t own one. But this past weekend, I had access to the altar of wasted time and spent most of my moments in front of it with the dramatic equivalent of cotton candy. That’s right: I watched Law & Order.

For those not familiar with Dick Wolfe’s ubiquitous franchise, it takes viewers through nearly every step of the criminal justice system, from the crime itself to the subsequent investigation to the trial and sentencing. It comes in three flavors -- the plain-vanilla original (everyday murders and assaults and whatnot), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (heinous sexual transgressions of every stripe) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (“high-profile” cases that are more toward mysteries). Not that it matters much, since all three stick to their tripartite structure like peanut butter to toast. Also, the bad guy always, always, always gets caught. You can bank on it.

Another thing you can bank on is bad dialogue, although it’s a kind that sneaks up on you rather than walloping you outright with its awfulness. As the number of viewings increase, you begin to realize that none of the characters talk much about anything but the case at hand. Virtually every single line is expository, existing solely to push you on to the next part of the case. Next you realize that each sentence is so generic, so bereft of any kind of development other than plot, that it could just as easily be moved from one character’s mouth to another with no noticeable loss. It hit me with a jolt while watching two detectives rattle off details tag-team about a perp that there might as well have only been one on-screen for all the differentiation in their words.

Soon after , I turned the set off. It’s a bad sign when a work’s speech is nearly as deadly to its characters as the crimes they’re investigating. And like cotton candy, it doesn’t take much of Law & Order to get your fill.

(Picture: CC 2007 by
by borrowed time demi-brooke)

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