Thursday, November 11, 2004

In the criminal justice system, someone's about to be replaced

Last night's Law & Order episode underscored the fact that Elizabeth Rohm and her character Serena Southerlyn are being eased out of the show (at the actress's request, by all accounts) by the middle of this season.

This is the third time this fall (by my unofficial count) that Serena has experienced a major parting of philosophical ways with her bosses, District Attorney Arthur Branch (Fred Dalton Thompson, having come light-years from the U.S. Senate) and Executive Assistant D.A. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston, having come light-years from Capricorn One). I can see these disputes building to the point that Serena will soon resign, probably to join a high-powered criminal defense firm (affording the opportunity for periodic guest appearances, once Ms. Rohm's nascent movie career goes the say of, say, David Caruso's).

Most of L&O's previous departees (which now includes the entire original cast) have made much more abrupt exits. When NBC threatened producer Dick Wolf with cancellation after the show's third season if he didn't replace two members of the then all-male cast with women, ADA Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks, who eventually went on to the entertainingly bizarre G vs. E) and Captain Don Cragen (Dann Florek, who eventually rebounded as one of the stars of the L&O spin-off, Special Victims Unit) simply disappeared from the proceedings. George Dzundza's older cop Max Greevey and Paul Sorvino's older cop Phil Cerretta were both shot (Greevey fatally, thanks to Dzundza's somewhat acrimonious departure). Michael Moriarty's EADA Ben Stone quit after an unwilling prosecution witness (Allison Janney, later of The West Wing) was murdered. Other characters slipped into the ether with similar lack of prelude. Only Benjamin Bratt's younger cop Reynaldo Curtis was allowed to wind up to a resolution — his concerns over his ailing wife's multiple sclerosis built for the better part of Rey's final season, before he left the force to care for her.

Personally, I won't be sorry to see Ms. Rohm go. Of the actors who have succeeded Brooks in the junior ADA's role, the icy Rohm (who would have been the perfect Hitchcock ingenue — blonde, cold, and minimally talented) is by far the least interesting. (She's a slightly better performer than her immediate predecessor, Angie Harmon, but her Serena character is less well defined than Harmon's gung-ho Texan, Abbie Carmichael.) I'm hoping that Wolf and the producers — who are, according to the latest Internet rumors, paring the short list of replacement candidates this very week — bring in a stronger actor, and give her (I presume it will be a "her") a stronger part to play.

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