‘Law & Order’ charged with lazy writing

Q I was looking forward to the return of “Law & Order,” but I have been so surprised at how bad it is. The acting and writing are pitiful. How can such talented actors and writers be so bad? Please tell me the ratings are so low that it will be canceled and replaced with a much better program.


A. I so so SO hear you. Unlike you, though, I’m not surprised. Well-oiled machines are great, except when they’re TV shows. The best of scripted TV has a human touch, a sense of the risks and variations and flourishes that come with inspiration. This season, the “Law & Order” scripts seem like they’ve been auto-written by a computer program, the same program that was writing them back when the show had already hit a creative wall back in 2010 after 450something episodes.

I don’t think it’s the cast, including newcomers Camryn Manheim and Jeffrey Donovan and returnees Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston. They’re given very little character development. They’re also given story lines, some of them feebly ripped from the headlines, that are half-baked at best. Watching this new season, I keep finishing episodes and wondering, “Is that it?” There is very little there, when the denouement rolls around; the writers aren’t sneaking in any of the twists that left you thinking a bit about the justice system, or human nature. There’s almost none of the wit from the show’s prime, too, when the cops’ and lawyers’ little sharp asides added both irony — something many of the spinoffs, notably “SVU,” do not have — and bits of character.

“Law & Order” is part of NBC’s Thursday night “Law & Order” sandwich, the start to a primetime schedule that leads into “Law & Order: SVU” and then “Law & Order: Organized Crime.” It’s the broadcast network’s New York night, coming right after its “Chicago” night. The ratings have not been great — the premiere brought in a decent 5.8 million viewers, but the number was down to 3.9 million last week. I can’t say how that will impact its chances of renewal, if NBC is bent on having a second night entirely made of Dick Wolf product.

Like you, I won’t miss “Law & Order” if it doesn’t return. I’d like to see the mothership remain in respectable retirement, leaving us with hundreds of reruns to revisit whenever we want.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.

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