I think I watch too much TV

So, I've run out of Monk (I loved the series finale, by the way -- Monk, of all people, managed to get a happy ending, and Tony Shalhoub is awesome) and Psych (which is hilarious and uses one of the most accurate symbolic depictions of Shawn's erratic eidetic memory I've ever seen) and I'm still waiting on my other library holds. Netflix has 180 episodes of Law & Order, not to mention several of its spinoffs. Okay then.

L&O is an awesome social time capsule. First off, it ran for 20 years, coming just short of busting the record for longest-lasting prime-time drama set by Gunsmoke. The fashion aspect alone is shockingly educational. The crimes committed against hair in 1990 make me shudder, as they should do all respectable God-fearing citizens. Any woman in a position of power wears the required hideously unflattering pantsuit, with extra-huge shoulder pads. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure Chris Noth was still wearing that leather coat when he reprised the role of Det. Logan on Criminal Intent twenty years later, so I guess some things really are timeless.

The technology is also pretty alien by now. Nobody has a cell phone -- you occasionally see one of the detectives stop to call into HQ on a pay phone, into which he feeds actual coins. Doctors have numeric pagers. When the cops bring in fingerprints, the print tech gets them on cards and sticks them under a comparison microscope; the FBI didn't launch IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) until 1999. DNA fingerprinting existed as early as the mid-80s, but was expensive, somewhat unreliable, and required comparatively large samples until the early 2000s, so it was a pretty big deal. Nobody has a laptop, save possibly the spooks. Desks are smothered in papers, instead of keyboards and monitors.

Though they stopped using it explicitly later in the show's run, L&O's original tagline was "ripped from the headlines". The cases are 'inspired by' rather than rehashes of crimes that were big in the news, but I've got a pretty good hit rate on figuring out which major cases they reference. Generally, they change at least one key part of the circumstances, such that the solution presented on TV wouldn't be possible in real life, but they usually do a pretty good job of highlighting whatever politicking went into the prosecution or lack thereof.

Quite possibly the most intriguing part is seeing the attitudes towards things we see now as commonplace. One of the very earliest episodes centers around a gay man who was shot to death in his apartment, and whether it was murder or assisted suicide. Nobody will tell them he's gay until the police are well into the investigation. He doesn't seem to have been closeted among friends and family, but his employer doesn't know (and doesn't know his ex-boyfriend works there either) and everyone who does treats it like something that really shouldn't be said too loudly in public. To their credit, the NYPD detectives treat it as a fact -- which may complicate the case, but which has no bearing on the quality of their investigation -- but they quite obviously go in to tell the parents expecting that the reaction will be bad. Contrast that with more recent episodes of SVU, where the detectives tend to run on the assumption that everyone knows whether they are looking for a girlfriend or a boyfriend or both, and are taken aback on the rare occasion when someone throws a hissy fit over it. Rampant homophobia, especially the kind that ends with you chucking dishes at the investigators, makes you a suspect more than anything else.

The victim in this case turns out to have AIDS, and the case hinges on whether the diagnosis would have been enough to prompt him to kill himself, or whether the suspect is claiming that in order to escape a verdict of first-degree murder. One of the people they interview at the AIDS hotline mentions having been diagnosed "back when they still called it GRID", and it is explicitly brought up that death from complications of AIDS is extremely unpleasant, though people have been known to "live with AIDS for several years". AZT is spotlighted as an experimental drug.

Later on, they went through a phase of writing up a lot of cases involving this new-fangled internet thing. Their tech was really no better than anyone else on TV, but because L&O also involves the trial part of the story they did a better job than most on presenting some of the social implications of the legal rulings.

Some of the actors on this show, particularly the long-lasting ones, are also kind of awesome. Pointing out that the late Detective Briscoe also provided both speaking and singing voice for Lumière in Beauty and the Beast is usually good for a "bwuh?" Holding down the same acting job for twelve years is no mean feat -- especially since the only reason he stopped was his own death, two episodes into filming his own L&O spinoff series. Most people apparently don't know that he was big in musicals before his long, long run on TV, but he day after he passed, the lights on Broadway were dimmed in mourning.

Sam Waterston spent 16 years on the show as ADA Jack McCoy, and before that he performed in one of my favorite renditions of Much Ado About Nothing, a 1973 production that pitted his Benedick against a suffragette Beatrice. He is hilariously anti-idiotarian in his politics, having been the spokesperson for a movement called Unity08, which was basically an effort to let the internet send someone directly to the semi-finals of the presidential election. (He finally got a star in 2010. Took them long enough.)

Jill Hennessy, despite making a convincing native New Yorker (and native Bostonian, in Crossing Jordan) is actually Canadian, speaking fluent French and some amount of other stuff, like Italian and German. She's probably best known for ADA Claire Kinkaid, but evidently landed the later role of Jordan Cavanaugh by basically being Jordan, without most of the hideously dysfunctional bits -- one of the producers tells a story about going to meet her to discuss the role over breakfast and getting all neurotic when he discovered that the restaurant he'd chosen was closed when they got there. Hennessy said 'eh, who gives a shit, we'll go somewhere else' and he said 'welp, we've got our lead'. It's pretty evident, particularly the snarky sense of humor, if you check her Twitter feed and interviews. (I'm guessing it's from her parents, who intentionally named a set of twins Jacqueline and Jill -- Hennessy refers to her sister, amusingly, as "Jac".) Being also a sort of folk rock-y musician (a lot of the original songs on Crossing Jordan, particularly if you can actually see Jordan with the guitar, are hers), she is not particularly concerned with being ladylike on camera; she does a lot of webcam snippets from, like, her bathroom, with no real makeup on, because she likes the reverb effect in there.