Law & Order began its 8 millionth season last night, and remains a great crime procedural. I wasn't entirely sure that I liked the final second of the episode, the cutesy moment at the end of a Jack McCoy press conference. Did you catch it? Sure you did, you just may not have instantly recognized it.
As McCoy started to walk away following the conclusion of his little press conference, a female voice shouted out a question at him about whether the rumor was true that he was going to be offered a position in the Obama administration. McCoy was already walking away and didn't answer the question, which was no surprise. His character isn't the type to treat such questions seriously. What would have been truly shocking is if he had turned around, looked the press corps in the eye and given a response. This episode aired one day after Obama's election; fewer than 24 hours had passed since McCain threw in the towel and Obama was declared President-elect. The voiceover was, necessarily, a last-minute addition to the episode, something put in not as much to better ground the story in our reality (which was certainly part of the reasoning behind it) as to show us how clever the show is.
Of course, it wasn't really a matter of being clever, was it? It was far more a matter of having whomever spoke the line ask the question both in reference to an Obama administration and a McCain one weeks (or months) in advance. Then all they had to do was simply add the right line to the wide shot (where you can't see who delivers it and check to make sure that the lips were moving with the words) and feed out the episode as they normally would. It's not so much clever as a good 45 seconds worth of work, and that, in my mind, makes it just a little too cutesy.
I like the fact that Law & Order is grounded in reality, that many of its cases are "ripped from the headlines." The New York City that the show inhabits is one, being someone who lived and worked in the area for years, is very familiar to me. There is, it seems to me, a certain amount of truth in their representation of the city (save the fact that the detectives work cases from the southernmost point of Manhattan to the northernmost), and watching an episode almost feels like taking a trip home — but without the familial guilt portion of the vacation.
The show recognizes changes in mayors and city realities as well as any show, but this one line, this question about McCoy's joining the Obama administration was just a hair too much, or perhaps a hair too soon. It served not as much to ground the show in the reality of New York and the country as it did to highlight the mechanisms of television production. There's something to be said for the show getting there before some other scripted program, but perhaps not quite enough to lay bare the artificial nature of television production in quite the way it was displayed yesterday.