Although it starts its airing tonight on BBC America, Law & Order: UK isn’t really new to American audiences. It’s been released on DVD as a Target exclusive since March (a wide release is planned for the end of this month), and all of its scripts are adapted from episodes of the original US version. However, for those yearning for a fix of real Law & Order (especially after the unsatisfactory taste of Law & Order: Los Angeles), the UK version will do quite nicely.
The series opens with “Care,” which is adapted from the 1992 US episode “Cradle to Grave” by Torchwood and Life on Mars writer Chris Chibnall. DS Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and his junior partner, DS Matt Devlin (the always great to see Jamie Bamber, familiar to US audiences from Battlestar Galactica), are called when a dead nine-month-old is left at a local hospital. They discover that his death was caused by the gas heater in the apartment in which he lived, and probing how that came to be unearths more than just a malfunction. There’s a devious landlady at work, one who wants to sell the property to developers for tons of cash and therefore has to get rid of her tenants – at any cost. However, chief prosecutor James Steel (Ben Daniels) and his second chair Alesha Phillips (Doctor Who‘s Freema Agyeman) have other ideas. The plot may be new to those who don’t remember early Law & Order, but for those of us longtime fans who were watching back then, it’s almost a refreshing reminder of how good the show was even in its first years.
Law & Order: UK is much more faithful to the brand than Los Angeles. Although it leaves the iconic theme behind (not surprising given this is a UK co-production and I’m sure there were probably behind the scenes issues with usage of the theme), it keeps the familiar “In the criminal justice system…” speech and the title cards at each location. Furthermore, it just feels more like the show it’s spun off from. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s not flashy or superficial. From the opening scene, it’s intriguing even if we remember where it came from. Even if you’re like me and know the original so well you can quote it, it still draws you in.
That’s because the series sports a cast worth watching. Fans of Galactica may be surprised to hear Bamber’s British accent as he plays the junior detective role with just the right amount of attitude, and Doctor Who philes will enjoy seeing Agyeman in a different part (dedicated fans will remember it was her commitment to this series that kept her from returning as Martha Jones in Torchwood: Children of Earth). I’ve heard complaints that she’s underused, but in my eyes she’s used just as much as any of her US counterparts. The one thing that’s jarring is in the second half – I’ve still never gotten used to the British tradition of wearing wigs and robes in court, but that’s just me.
The most interesting thing about Law & Order: UK is that, for the most part, it draws from early episodes of the original series (the latest air date of any adapted episode in the first two series is 1997), yet the issues haven’t lost any of their relevance or poignancy. In two separate countries, after more than a decade, the topics raised are still compelling. It makes you wonder how far we’ve really come since then, if these are situations which still hit home. Between that and an engaging cast, Law & Order: UK is worth tuning in for.
“Care” airs tonight on BBC America at 10:30 PM. Subsequent episodes are scheduled to air Fridays at 9 PM. Check back here after each episode for my reviews!