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More Wednesday Viewing: "Law & Order," "Moment of Truth"

By admin Published: January 24, 2008

"Law & Order" impresario Dick Wolf has more than once argued that, in a full television season, about one third of the episodes of a given show will be really good, one third really bad and the other third in between. I'd put last night's "L&O" among the best of the season to date, and one of the best I have seen in recent years. ...

As I've written before, I have seen five of the current run of "L&O," but I had not seen last night's. Since in my notebook post I mentioned that the show was doing fine without Fred Thompson, I thought I should check it out again. The case -- involving the shooting of two young people, one white and one black -- involved an expected twist, and then an unexpected one. It included meditations on race and class, another situation where McCoy had to evolve from his old prosecutorial ways to Being The Boss, and a nod to the great Adam Schiff, the DA played by Steven Hill, and never satisfactorily replaced. There were supporting turns by the likes of Ally Walker and Terry Kinney, and a solution that argued that common sense will prevail.

OK, so that solution may have seemed wildly implausible. But I still found it satisfying. And the case was not as fleshed out as it might have been -- where was the family of the dead girl? -- but it still had a lot of detail and issues jammed into an hour. And I like not only what McCoy did, but how Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) was important to the story, and the insights we're getting into the new detective (Jeremy Sisto, very good in that incredulous moment while talking to possible witnesses on the street), and the new prosecutor (Linus Roache), who indicated ambivalence without overplaying it. Solid stuff, and I'll be back for more.

As for "The Moment of Truth," the new reality show from Fox, I have to say that it was promoted very well. The idea of using a lie detector on real people isn't new; F. Lee Bailey hosted a syndicated show, "Lie Detector," in 1983, although it dealt more with matters in the news. "Moment of Truth's" premise -- you keep winning money as long as you tell the truth, but the questions are going to get nasty -- was compounded by asking the questions in front of family, friends, a boss. And it offered plenty of chances to walk away from an uncomfortable question, although everyone knows that walking away would be an admission of guilt.

So, amped up for the show, I was disappointed by how very slow it was at first. The questions took a long time to get from mild to wild, and the melodramatic flourishes -- the music, the faces of the guy in the seat and the people he knew -- were terribly overdone. Someone must have decided that people would wait to get to the nitty-gritty as the show began, as long as they knew something good was down the road. But the show did recognize that the audience's patience can be stretched only so far; the second contestant was popped with uncomfortable questions from the beginning of his interrogation.

But here are a couple of bigger issues that I am waiting for the show to address. The first is the fallout from an interrogation; if that personal trainer has indeed irked his wife, as the show indicated, let's find out if that's the case, either immediately after the show or in a later telecast. (I almost wish there was a "Moment of Truth" equivalent of Doug Llewelyn interviewing people after their onscreen trial was over.)

The other problem is that the show basically needs to have unlikable people in the chair. The personal trainer certainly fit that bill. He had a smugness and seeming arrogance that made me want him to get caught in a lie, or lose his money, or leave the stage with either his relationship or his self-esteem in tatters. He was right that the question he was nailed on was ambiguous -- I said that to the bride before he answered -- but I was just content to see him nailed.

The other contestant, though, seemed like a nice guy and one who, as the show went on, appeared to have had problems in his life that he was trying to get beyond. Why would I want to see that guy suffer -- especially after he early on made an admission that could cost him his job? Was the money really that important to him? Or was that the point where the show revealed its fundamental sadism? As is the case with "American Idol," it's one thing to mock the the deluded and over-confident; it's another thing to pick on the guileless.

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