Kicking off the First Episode Tournament on WhatdoUwatch.com, ‘Law & Order’ takes on its own upstart younger sibling, ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’. The two shows from Executive Producer Dick Wolf both stand as early procedurals that were arguably the best of their time.
For the record, there was some discrepancy about the first episode of the original ‘Law & Order’ series. I viewed ‘Everybody’s Favorite Bagman’, the first episode of the series according to Amazon Instant Video. A different episode is listed as first of the series on IMDB, and while I shudder to go against the all-power index, I already watched ‘Bagman’ so whatever.
‘Everybody’s Favorite Bagman’ is a hardhitting political corruption scandal with racial undertones (and sometimes overtones) from the beginning. The gritty “street level” feel of the opening act is reminiscent of the gangster films ‘Colors’ and ‘American Me’. Chris Noth stars as Detective Mike Logan in his first appearance in the tourney, look for him again in the first episode of ‘The Good Wife’.
George Dzundza (Sgt Max Greevy) delivers the best line of dialogue from the episode when the two partners are waiting to arrest a perp walking his pitbull: “he drops the leash, shoot the dog first.”
The episode is a little discombobulated, the quick cuts and rapid fire New York dialogue that will go on to cement the show in primetime glory are less than up to par, unlike ‘Law & Order: SVU’s first episode, which (nine years later) delivers a much smoother story from start to finish.
The 1999 sister act to the original ‘Law & Order’, ‘SVU’ burst onto the scene cornering the nitch on “particularly heinous crimes” in the procedural game, namely those of a sexual nature. The opening episode, ‘Payback’, introduces Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson (played by actors Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, respectively). The two detectives must attempt to solve a murder case, a disfigured cab driver they discover may be one of the very monsters they swore to stop.
Similar to A.D.A. Paul Robinette in ‘Law & Order’ and his own self-doubts and internal struggles during his episode, Benson must decide whether or not she has what it takes to be a cop in the Special Victims Unit when the nature of her case becomes all too personal. The partner drama that ensues among Benson and Stabler is something absent from ‘Bagman’. The shock-value nature of ‘Payback’ also lends itself to a more compelling hour of television, even though after 16 season the series has drug the audience through the mud and filth of humanity over and over and over again.
Still, the sequel trumps the original, as ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ trumps ‘Law & Order’ in the first match up of the WhatdoUwatch First Episode Tournament.
Winner: ‘Law & Order: SVU’