The Fourth Season
Dick Wolf's Law & Order has been one of the most popular running television dramas. It is responsible for three spin-off series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Law & Order: Trial By Jury. Pretty much, it is hard to turn on a TV and not hear something about the Law & Order universe. However if by chance you may not be familiar with this series (or any of its spin-off shows), read on. Otherwise skip ahead to the next paragraph. Law & Order is a crime drama that focuses on a unique balance of criminal investigations and the legal proceedings that follow. In twenty-two TV hour long episodes, we watch detectives apprehend suspects and the district attorney's office prosecute them. This standard theme takes on a few variations throughout the season, but on the whole, it stays pretty consistent. Despite the formulaic approach, there is enough difference in detail, in regards to the characters and events, to keep the stories exciting. For more details about this series, please refer to DVD Talk's reviews of season one, season two, season three, and season fourteen.
Like past seasons, season four comes with a couple of cast changes. The first big change is Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) being replaced with Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson). Van Buren brings another tough lieutenant to guide the cops of Law & Order. The other change is in the District Attorney's office. ADA Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) leaves the show to be replaced by Jill Hennessy as ADA Claire Kincaid. The character Kincaid works alongside Executive ADA Benjamin Stone, and in this season she really doesn't bring much to the fore. Her character comes off pretty weak and in a couple of occasions she loses her job at the DA's office. Although towards the end of the season her role is much stronger than when she was first introduced. This season is also Benjamin Stone's last season on Law & Order. In season five he is replaced by Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston).
Similar to season three, what really works for season four is the detective pairing, Mike Logan (Chris Noth) and Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach). Logan and Briscoe make a great team and perform wonderfully together. They flow very well together and make the "law" portion of the show enticing. The "order" side, however, wasn't nearly as strong as the past season. As mentioned, Hennessy's character comes off pretty weak for the majority of the season and having her paired with Moriarty didn't work as well as when he was paired with Brooks.
As for the episodes, this season has several goods ones. The season opens with "Sweeps", which quickly introduces both Van Buren and Kincaid as the new season character replacements and provides an interesting tale about a talk show host who boosts his ratings by setting up a murder on live television. "American Dream" is another strong episode where a new evidence surfaces and a murderer Stone put in jail gets a second trial. Zeljko Ivanek (Homicide: Life on the Street) guest stars and gives a brilliant performance as a bad guy. "Breeder" offers a creepy tale about an adoption scam. A woman appears in the ER claiming she passed out in a taxi and awoke to find her newborn missing. Logan and Briscoe find there is another side to her story and the outcome is disturbing.
In "Kids" the son of a retired detective and old friend of Briscoe's is involved in the shooting of a fourteen year old boy. The situation gets serious as Briscoe must weigh his convictions and ethical obligations. "Mayhem" models events after the John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt incident. Logan and Briscoe respond to a call to find a jealous spouse who cut something off of her husband to prevent him from cheating on her again. The twist is that the husband dies from blood loss and she attempts to apply a self-defense argument to her case.
"Sanctuary" is a powerful episode about racism, which probably would have been better served with more detail as a two-part episode. Still, as it was, "Sanctuary" offered a powerful story about racism. In the story a young black boy is killed in a hit and run by a Jewish driver. The driver isn't indicted and a riot ensues, which results in another murder. "Doubles" is the episode modeled after the real world Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding incident. In this story, the wrist of a young tennis professional destined for fame is shattered when an unknown assailant attacks her. But after some nosing around the cast realizes the case isn't as straightforward as it appears.
The final episode of the season "Old Friends" is a pretty good episode, but also at the same time it felt a little lax. The story is about an "accidental" death of a man who worked for a baby food company that had financial ties to the Russian mob. This incident is what provides Stone's resignation from the DA's office, which is the part I felt was lax and came on abruptly. The remaining episodes offer some intriguing tales including a twisted Judge and insights into Hennessy's character in "Censure", an unlikely letter bomb killer in "Big Bang", murderous mail order brides in "The Pursuit of Happiness", and more.
Overall the fourth season of Law & Order presents twenty-two more episodes of drama, which any fan of the show should appreciate. This season continues the strong pairing of Noth and Orbach together, as well as a strong lead from Moriarty. We also have Merkerson replacing Cragen, which works well. The other new cast member Hennessy does not offer a strong enough character in this season to compare to her predecessor Brooks, but in the next season alongside Waterston she plays a stronger role. In the end, the season four cast fairs well and they work together to produce some intriguing and entertaining stories.
5. Black Tie
6. Pride and Joy
8. American Dream
9. Born Bad
10. The Pursuit of Happiness
11. The Golden Years
16. Big Bang
22. Old Friends
The video in this release is given in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame color. The picture quality looks good. As found with the earlier season releases, there is a slight roughness, grain in the picture, and hints of edge enhancement. Overall it is a solid picture.
The audio track supplied with release is English 2.0 Dolby digital stereo sound. The sound quality is good, the track is pretty clean and spoken dialogue is easily heard. Like most TV on DVD releases it is fairly flat and there is not much to it, but it fits the presentation well. This release also comes with subtitles in English and Spanish and supports closed captioning.
The extras included with this DVD release are forty-three deleted and extended scenes. They include episodes "Discord" (7 scenes, runtime 8:33), "Black Tie" (2 scenes, runtime 1:11), "Pride and Joy" (7 scenes, runtime 4:32), "Apocrypha" (2 scenes, runtime 3:45), "The Pursuit of Happiness" (7 scenes, runtime 8:21), "Breeder" (3 scenes, runtime 1:48), "Big Bang" (3 scenes, runtime 3:18), "Wager" (6 scenes, runtime 6:06), "Sanctuary" (3 scenes, runtime 1:33), and "Doubles" (3 scenes, runtime 4:42). These are worth sitting through, but nothing I could imagine wanting to see again.
Season four of Law & Order offers plenty of compelling episodes to keep you on the edge of your seat that are complimented by top notch performances from cast members Noth, Orbach, and Moriarty. The new cast additions this season offer a strong lieutenant in charge of the case detectives and a fairly weak ADA who starts to shine in the next season. All together, this makes for some good drama.