What I like most about Law & Order is that it’s always on. For a long time I didn’t watch Law & Order, and then one day I did. I used to turn the TV on, flick around for something to watch, and on nearly every other channel find Law & Order reruns featuring either the first cast, the previous cast, or the current cast, if not new episodes of the current cast with special guest stars, or else new episodes of one of the Law & Order spin-offs—Special Victims Unit or Criminal Intent—both old and new casts and their repeats. Reluctantly, I’d turn off the set, unhappy because I had very much wanted to watch television, but was not a fan of Law & Order. Staring at the blank screen and wondering what to do next, I’d think, how much better my life would be if only I liked Law & Order.
Then one evening, tired from a long tiring day, instead of turning the TV off after coming upon an episode of Law & Order, I left it on and watched for a while. I didn’t like it, but I managed to watch the entire episode. The next day, I found myself in a similar situation, with nothing to watch but Law & Order and I lingered again, watching another entire episode straight through. And then the next day there was also nothing to watch, and so I watched it a third time, a full hour of Law & Order, followed by another full hour.
I didn’t used to watch much TV because there was never anything on besides Law & Order, but I’ve been staying home a lot lately watching Law & Order because it’s always on. Each episode of Law & Order is formatted the same. I never don’t know what’s going to happen next, which appeals to me. First, there is a cold opening that depicts an unsuspecting victim during the events leading up to his or her attack. We watch the victim struggle with his or her assailant before he or she is raped, robbed, and/or murdered. The body falls to the ground, and the show cuts immediately to a musical montage accompanied by opening credits, during which we see the lead actors posing in action as detectives of New York City’s major case squad. A short commercial break follows, and then we are back watching the detectives of the major case squad as they arrive at the scene of the crime. The detectives are then briefed on the circumstance under which the body was found. “Her neighbor says he found her in the doorway like this,” a cop explains to the two detectives. The detectives talk seriously for a few minutes before they decide what to do. “Let’s go visit his doctor,” one of them says soberly, and then they have that percussion sound that runs throughout the episode, punctuating each scene change. The screen goes black and at the bottom in white writing it says something like, “The Office of Doctor William Schwartz, Murray Hill,” followed by an address. Because I’ve been watching Law & Order a lot lately, the percussion sound is stuck in my head. I often watch the show before I go to sleep and the percussion sound is the last thing I hear before my mind goes black.
I still don’t like Law & Order, but it’s pretty easy to watch. It’s much easier to watch it than not to watch it, so I watch it regularly. The other day I read the TV Guide to find out when it would be airing next. It said it was on almost every hour on almost all of the channels. I watched one episode on one channel while recording another of its reruns on another channel in order to watch that one later. Then I flicked to another episode during the commercials of the one I was watching. I had seen all three episodes already. A few times. But there was nothing else on and it seemed easier to watch them than not to watch them when I thought about it. I thought, if I watch Law & Order then I have all this stuff to watch, but if I don’t watch Law & Order, then I will have nothing to watch. So I watch Law & Order all the time now, which is great because it’s on all the time, which is what I like most about the show. I don’t think I could live without watching Law & Order anymore. Or I wouldn’t want to anyway. Luckily, Law & Order is on most of the time, so I don’t have to think about what it would be like not to watch it. It’s hard to imagine a life not watching it.
Iris Smyles’ stories and essays have appeared in BOMB, NYPress, Nerve, and Guernica among other publications and anthologies. A former humor columnist for Splice Today, she recently edited and wrote an afterword for The Capricious Critic (Seismicity Editions, April 2010), a collection of humorous essays by Ari Martin Samsky, expanded from the original column on her site, www.SmylesandFish.com.