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Television review: 'Law & Order: UK'

The familiar formula works well in London too.

October 02, 2010|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

There's not a whole lot to say about "Law & Order: UK," and I mean that in the best possible way. Relocated and updated by Chris Chibnall ("Torchwood," Life on Mars"), it's classic "Law & Order."

The first season is based on episodes cherry-picked from the original American series and all gussied up with British accents, vernacular (at some point, the all-purpose "brilliant" must make the leap across the pond) and, in the courtroom, all those crazy robes and wigs. Studded with British notables including Bradley Walsh ("Coronation Street"), Jamie Bamber ("Battlestar Galactica"), Harriet Walter ("Sense and Sensibility," "The Young Victoria" and Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones on "Dr. Who"), it will no doubt satisfy both "Law & Order" fans and TV anglophiles. Those who dwell in the nexus of the two groups may experience rapture, though they have probably already bought the DVD set, which came out in July.

There's just not much more a poor TV critic can write. No egregious liberties have been taken — all the primary players are in place, and the action moves from place to place with the same informative captions and metallic double-note. The show's iconic division between those who catch the criminals and those who prosecute them works just as well in London as it does in New York (or, more recently, Los Angeles). Of course, those Brits can act; and their accents, as Woody Allen has noted, make even the most mundane bit of dialogue seem drenched with meaning.

Under the humane but impatient eye of their "Guv" (Walter), Walsh and Barber play Detectives Ronnie Brooks and Matt Devlin, respectively. After years on the force, Brooks watches with rumpled and rueful good humor while handsome newcomer Devlin moves in for the kill. Prosecuting for the Crown are the aptly named James Steel ( Ben Daniels); his boss, George Castle ( Bill Paterson); and junior associate Alesha Phillips (Agyeman).

All are bright, hardworking and loyal people, dedicated to seeking justice in its purest sense, and, as with the original series, most resolutions are not entirely black and white. In the first episode of "Law & Order: UK," an infant dies after a series of adults make bad decisions, although one is eventually convicted of the crime. In the second, the calculated and cynical defense of a young boy backfires in a disturbing way. That the series chose to begin with two child murders is a bit alarming, cranking up the emotional stakes in a manipulative manner, but like its predecessor, "Law & Order: UK" uses ripped-from-the-headlines crimes to examine larger social issues, including the plight of the working poor and street kids.

For those Americans who have fallen through some wormhole and have never seen "Law & Order," the British version is as good a place to start as any — Walsh, Bamber and Agyeman in particular deliver fine performances. And those put off by the new "Law & Order: Los Angeles" or just jonesing for the good old days, will no doubt find a trip to London positively … brilliant.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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