Law and Order UK series 1, episode 1 rewatch: Care

Law & Order UK -- Courtesy of Acorn TV
Law & Order UK -- Courtesy of Acorn TV /

Law and Order UK series 1, episode 1 commentary.

While waiting for Dick Wolf‘s franchises to return to NBC, we’re taking a look back at an outstanding Dick Wolf series you can watch now but likely haven’t discovered—the British import Law and Order UK.

LOUK, as it’s referred to for short, brought the original Law and Order to British audiences starting in 2009, while also lining up an all-star cast including Bradley Walsh (Doctor Who), Jamie Bamber (Strike Back), Freema Agyeman (New Amsterdam) and Ben Daniels (The Exorcist).

SPOILER ALERT: This commentary contains spoilers for Law and Order UK series 1, episode 1. You can watch this episode on Sundance Now.

Note that this commentary corrects our earlier announcement that LOUK would be available on Acorn TV beginning in November 2020. Acorn TV has delayed their premiere until an unspecified time in 2021, so episodes are only available on Sundance Now.

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Series 1, episode 1: “Care” (originally aired Feb. 23, 2009)

What appears to be a bomb scare at a London hospital turns out to be someone disposing of a dead baby—so was he murdered and if so, who killed him?

Law and Order UK comes at the police procedural from a very unique place. It’s not just slapping the Dick Wolf brand on a generic cop show; it actually utilizes the scripts from the original series. But it’s not a carbon copy either—the writers, including future Doctor Who and Broadchurch showrunner Chris Chibnall, who penned this episode—deftly adapt each episode for British culture and their legal system, creating new dilemmas, new results and a brand-new cast of characters played by some first-rate actors.

“Care” is an adaptation of the Law and Order season 2 episode “Cradle to Grave,” which goes from bomb threat to the death of a child to a landlord willing to do anything to make more money off of her apartment building. As the title indicates, the plot discusses the duty of care that the landlord has toward her tenants, including the infant who died.

The police are represented by Detective Sergeants Ronnie Brooks and Matt Devlin, played so well by Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber. Brooks is a world-weary veteran, not unlike the role Walsh is playing now as one of the companions on Doctor Who, while Devlin is his less jaded counterpart. From the off, audiences can see that Bamber and Walsh have a great back-and-forth, as good as any of the detective teams in 20 seasons of Law and Order. They can make witty commentary as deserved but are determined to get at the truth of this baby’s death.

Dame Harriet Walter (Downton Abbey, The Crown) oversees them as Detective Inspector Natalie Chandler. What’s great about Chandler is that Chibnall doesn’t just leave her in the boss’s office to dole out orders; she interacts with her team, both seriously and not-so-seriously.

Eventually, our heroes set their sights on the landlord Maureen Walters (played by another The Crown veteran, Lorraine Ashbourne), since she was using one of the tenants to undermine the property, including tampering with the heating system—and the broken heater was the source of the carbon monoxide poisoning that killed the baby. This is where the episode really gets rolling, as Law and Order UK is akin to Chicago Justice with how well it handles its courtroom drama.

James Steel is the hard-charging prosecutor, brought to life with impeccable poise and impressive bite by Ben Daniels. Steel is so smart that you can constantly see the wheels in his head turning, and unlike his American counterpart Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty), Steel is only polite to a point. “Care” includes a great scene where he tells Walters’ defense attorney exactly what he thinks of him, and rightly so.

One notable change in the lawyer portion of LOUK is that the partnership between Steel and his second chair, Alesha Phillips, feels much more equal. In many Law and Order episodes, the junior prosecutor is just there to take notes, or maybe get a scene or two with the cops. Alesha is James’ partner and perhaps the key to that is the chemistry that Agyeman and Daniels have together. It’s clear that they respect each other’s talents and enjoy working together.

There are no big legal surprises in “Care,” which is fine, because first episodes are always primarily about introducing the characters and establishing the world, especially in a procedural with such a strict format as the Law and Order franchise. Steel puts pressure on everyone around Walters, with evidence dug up by the police and Alesha, until he has enough to hold her responsible (hint: it doesn’t stop with this one death). And then there’s the classic Law and Order “button” where the characters leave us with something to think about in the last scene.

LOUK provides everything that audiences love about Dick Wolf’s most famous brand. But it also improves on some of the areas where the original series could have done better, and its cast is as good as if not better than the American ensemble. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until One Chicago, FBI or SVU come back in January, this is the perfect series to foot the bill.

Next. Dick Wolf working on New York Undercover reboot. dark

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