"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups -- the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."
I HOPED WHEN SUMMER came and the days grew longer, I would be cured. That my days and nights huddled under an afghan in the basement would be over. That the blue glow of the TV screen on my pallid face would be replaced by the warmth of the sun. That I would leave the house, see people, engage the world outside the small screen.
I was wrong, and my affliction continues unabated. I am not talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder. I am talking about Law & Order Disorder.
I am a member of the third, separate, and yet equally important, group: The people who watch the show all the time. This is my story.
I am a Law & Order junkie. They should cuff me, Mirandize me and push me into the back of a squad car.
They should lock me in the interview room while Lt. Anita Van Buren regards me with distaste outside the two-way window. My attorney could burst in the door, prosecutor Jack McCoy could offer me a deal "take it or leave it," the jury foreman could tell the judge they have reached a verdict and everybody could walk down the courthouse steps.
Nothing would make me happier. I would finally meld with the show that consumes me and all my leisure time.
And my husband's leisure time. And that of my sisters, most of my friends and my boss at work. From the looks of things, America is about to grind to a halt under the weight of Law & Order.
Since the show's debut in 1990, it has produced almost 350 episodes for re-running -- and that doesn't count the three spin-offs and their reruns.
You can now catch an episode at almost any point on the clock. Or you can purchase the DVD collections of the first three seasons and completely withdraw from the world. Sixty-six episodes in a row. Can you imagine! That's better than TNT's and USA's holiday weekend marathons.
I have been with Sam Waterston since he joined the show in 1994. Through crusty old Adam Schiff and the tragic car accident that claimed Claire Kincaid; from Diane Neal's appearance as a sexual predator on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to her return as the show's assistant district attorney. I applauded Fred Thompson's decision to leave the U.S. Senate and join Law & Order. What higher calling can there be? And I was there when A.D.A. Serena Southerlyn announced she was gay, although I must say I never saw that coming.
(Jack McCoy can't seem to bring himself to take on a homely assistant, but I have put that objection aside for the sake of seeing what his women wear in court and the cute hats they wear in winter. Although if I ate that much Chinese food, I'd be the size of a house.)
The death of Jerry Orbach was a blow -- almost like a death in the family. But the acerbic wit of Det. John Munch is certainly a match for Orbach's Lennie Briscoe.
None of the male detectives has been as good looking as Benjamin Bratt -- not even Christopher Meloni, who plays Det. Elliot Stabler on "SUV," as my sister calls it. But Bratt's character was married with kids and his wife had MS.
Sheesh, what a buzz kill.
But this is nit-picking when compared to the hours of television viewing Law & Order provides: every episode is a new episode no matter how many times it is re-run.
For my sister Cynthia, it is because she always falls asleep before the ending. For me, it is because I can never remember how the episodes end no matter how many times I see them. I think that is the result of years of multi-tasking, but, in any case, this guarantees that I will never tire of Law & Order.
And it has saved my marriage.
Granted, my husband and I found each other again over The Sopranos. But that show is off the air more than it is on, and we were in danger of drifting apart again until we discovered this mutual and consuming fascination with Law & Order.
OK, so one of my sisters and her husband have gotten together over Pimp My Ride and another has to get her dose of Law & Order in a separate room from her husband the lawyer because he always has something to say.
But on any given night, you can find my husband and me under our afghans, in the basement, bathed in blue light. And now that "Christafa" from The Sopranos (Michael Imperioli) is filling in for Jesse L. Martin, it seems as though our marriage has come full circle.
They say that Law & Order is causing all sorts of problems in the court system -- jurors are condemning defendants who don't take the stand; they are demanding to know why nobody checked for prints or DNA, and they are sniffing at the lack of showmanship on the part of prosecutors.
But that is the real world and Law & Order is not the real world.
It is a place I go -- where many of us go, it seems -- to get away from the real world. A place where we can forget the real headlines and watch stories -- ripped from those headlines -- snap together like a briefcase at the end of an hour.
And then we can watch it again and again, until the loose ends in our own lives fade to black.