By Kevin Canessa Jr.
If you’re a fan of the “Law and Order” series — and let’s face it, who in America hasn’t at one point or another sat down to watch one or more episodes of the many versions of the show? — you certainly know how intense the show is here stateside.
What many don’t know is that for the last six years, there’s been a British version of “Law and Order” — all episodes are based on the original American version — and it’s by far the best created to date.
As is often the case in the U.K., the seasons of “Law and Order UK” are quite short. There have been eight “series” or seasons and the most there’s ever been in a series is 13 episodes. The current series, the eighth, ended late in April with eight episodes.
There are some major parallels in the show. And some noticeable differences.
The show starts off with the words familiar to American viewers: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups.” But it changes here. “The police who investigate crime, and the Crown Prosecutors who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
In the U.K., the Crown Prosecutors handle prosecutions.
Each episode begins with a cold open and quick look into the crime — and the police’s arrival on the scene. The crimes that take place have all happened somewhere in London in locations that actually exist.
Now, one of the reasons why this version of the show is so much stronger than the American version is that in the U.K., show producers are able to make the storylines much more dramatic — and sometimes graphic. The rules that keep things here somewhat tame don’t exist in the U.K. — at least at night.
So the writers have tweaked the original screenplays to adapt them to a British audience. And they do so brilliantly.
Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of the U.K. version, however, is that there’s been significant turnover of the cast. But it’s the original cast that has done the best work.
Jamie Bamber, who starred in the TNT short-lived drama “Monday Mornings,” plays Detective Sgt. Matt Devlin. He’s partnered with actor Bradley Walsh, a former U.K. soccer (football) player, who plays Detective Sgt. Ronnie Brooks.
Brooks’ character is clearly modeled after Lennie Briscoe, who was so brilliantly portrayed by the late Jerry Orbach. Like Briscoe, Brooks is a recovering alcoholic who has a strained relationship with his 20-something-year-old daughter. And like Briscoe, Walsh has a very sharp yet dry sense of humor. His experience and wisdom, as with Briscoe, makes him the go-to guy for younger detectives. So fans of Briscoe should immediately be able to identify with Brooks.
Devlin, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to have an American parallel. He’s very emotional — and gets deeply involved in the cases, almost to a point where he crosses the line professionally. He’s often reminded about the dangers of getting too close to the families of victims.
In the original series, Ben Daniels, whom you may know from “House of Cards” as Adam Galloway — the on-again, off-again British love interest of Frank Underwood’s wife Claire Underwood — plays Crown Prosecutor James Steel. Steel is likely modeled after Jack McCoy, politically liberal but very tough when it comes to pleas and ensuring the guilty pay the price for their crimes.
He’s assisted by Alesha Phillips, an assistant Crown prosecutor, played by Freema Agyeman. She most recently played Larissa Loughlin on “The Carrie Diaries” on the CW Network.
It’s not really clear whom, if anyone, Phillips is modeled after from the American version of the show, but she’s a great partner for Steel — and the two often are at odds over the direction to take cases.
While the show is broadcast on ITV in the U.K., it is often seen here on BBC America. No date has been announced yet for the debut of the most current season, but older episodes are often shown on the network — and are, depending on your carrier, available for viewing on demand, both on your TV and online.
There’s no question there will be some who will say there’s no way anything is better than the American versions of “Law and Order.” But if you take just a few moments to watch at least one of the British episodes, chances are you’ll get hooked.
And once that happens, you’ll discover that giving “Law and Order” a British twist is just what was needed to make this one of the greatest TV dramas ever created.
Below: The very first episode of Law & Order UK.