March 07, 2005 12:00 PM

NBC (Thurs., March 3, 10 p.m. ET)

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” I never came close to sharing that bloodthirsty sentiment from Shakespeare’s Henry VI until I watched the early episodes of the fourth series to carry the Law & Order brand.

Assistant District Attorney Tracey Kibre (Bebe Neuwirth) wears her intensity like a shiny badge and gets too much satisfaction out of seeing her name in the New York press. Her boss, D.A. Arthur Branch (Fred Thompson, who holds down the same role on the Wednesday Law & Order), growls lines like “Congratulations on getting that scumbag indicted” when he’s not reminding the staff that he’s up for reelection.

The defense attorneys come across as a virtual criminal class, though talented guest stars play them with style. In the premiere—airing the night before the show moves to Fridays at 10—a Broadway producer’s high-priced mouthpiece (Annabella Sciorra) is untroubled when the louse describes how he murdered his pregnant girlfriend. In the second episode, a lubricious lawyer (Peter Coyote) plots with a stone-cold killer to make millions by suing the city for wounds the thug sustained in a shootout with police. The March 11 episode has Sopranos shrink Lorraine Bracco as a politically ambitious defender who apparently cut every law-school ethics class. Though this is supposed to be the first L&O to include the defense’s point of view, it blatantly stacks the dramatic deck.

The late Jerry Orbach makes his usual vivid impression in the first two episodes as police investigator Lennie Briscoe. But Kelly Gaffney (Amy Carlson) is a standard-issue secondary prosecutor.


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