On September 13, 1990, a show premiered that would change the face of television. Law & Order would come to define the police and legal procedural and would spawn a multitude of spinoffs, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which, currently in its twenty-third season, is the longest-running primetime U.S. live-action series in the history of television. It is undeniable that the multitude of police and lawyer dramas—not just in the Law & Order universe– that have existed in the past twenty years and continue to exist now owe their existence and success to some degree to L&O creator Dick Wolf’s original vision.
Although many would try to fill the void left when the original series went off the air in 2010 after twenty seasons (and six Emmys), no show could truly recapture the special something Law & Order had. Whether it was the formula, the format, the characters, or the stories, there was something unique in that original show that no other show could truly match. This is probably why, after a twelve-year hiatus, Wolf is bringing back the original series with all-new episodes this February.
N.B.C. will premiere the twenty-first season of Law & Order on February 24, following their Winter Olympics coverage. While everyone is pretty tight-lipped about details of the series, we do know that it will be a continuation, not a reboot, and it will have the same format as the beloved original series, focusing the spotlight equally on “the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.” Sam Waterston will be returning as Law & Order legend, D.A. Jack McCoy, and Anthony Anderson will reprise his role as Detective Kevin Bernard.
But before we jump into this new old world again, we thought it might be worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the brilliance of the original twenty seasons. Yes, we’ve culled through all 456 episodes to narrow it down to the absolute ten best, the ten episodes that best capture the essence of Law & Order and are the most memorable, the most re-watchable. Whether you have never seen a single episode or you are a die-hard fan, these ten hours will kindle or re-kindle your love of the show that launched an empire, and remind the world of the days when network television was still king.