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"Law & Order:" One...last...time?



  Here's the wrap...hard to believe it may almost be over...


 "Law & Order," WNBC/4, 10.

 Reason to watch: 20th season finale and maybe the series one.

 What it's about: Some readers might recognize the episode title “Rubber Room” as it relates to New York's Board of Ed. If a teacher has been suspended pending outcome of some investigation relating to alleged classroom misconduct, they're sent to an empty classroom where they draw pay and wait. Some critics have called the process Kafkesque, and (naturally) “L&O” saw the perfect foil for the season wrap.  Det. Bernard (Anthony Anderson) and Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) are contacted by some parents whose daughter exposed herself via a webcam, which ended up on a pervert's website. Bernard and "Lups," however, also see pictures on the site of weapons’ caches - some stored in a car with New York State plates. Their investigation leads them to the brink of one of their biggest cases - a potential Columbine-style assault on a city high school. Meanwhile, Lt. Anita Van Buren (Epatha Merkerson) undergoes an MRI to the strains of Andrea Bocelli and "La Boheme."

 My say:
Fans, real "L&O" fans, who watch tonight's episode will probably start to snuffle or even break down and bawl when the closing credits start to roll.  An old, familiar and beloved character goes through a wrenching ordeal during the episode so that makes sense.  Then, there's the issue of another old friend. Sic transit Gloria, and all that: Life is fleeting, and TV is really fleeting, but wasn't "Law & Order" supposed to stick around forever? (Or at least until the record-breaking 21st season?) Locked into an ironclad formula, the miracle of this classic was that it rarely felt locked in place. Unlike a daytime soap that drags on year after year until the last viewer standing turns out the lights, "L&O" had - has - a solid fanbase that relished its rarely tendentious or predictable twists on ethics, legal or otherwise They were - are - fascinated when the show ripped a headline, and then made ‘em think about it in an entirely fresh way. They loved - love - the acting, writing, New York locale. "L&O" was - is – a part of the city they love.

 Bottom line: Tonight proves - and I mean really proves - that there's plenty of life left in "Law & Order;" there's passion, intelligence, heroics, joy, fear, and even a well-executed story. NBC has passed but here's hoping a smart cable network picks up a New York institution with a great past and vital future.

 Grade: A


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