Saturday, January 13, 2007

That's the one with email, right?

Last night the boyfriend and I were in the mood for some Law & Order, as we so often are, so we set about choosing an episode from his DVR's extensive queue. Ideally, we will find at least one that neither of us has seen (recently), but it's not always easy to make that call based on the one-sentence summaries. I don't know who writes these things, but they often try to cheat and base their plot summary on just the pre-credits teaser. So sometimes they're wildly off the mark, and sometimes they're just unhelpfully general: "A jogger finds a body in Central Park." Gee, thanks. (Weirdly, other times they give away plot twists that happen 30 minutes in, thus ruining the episode. Go figure.)

Last night we settled on an episode whose summary was something like, "Curtis searches the internet for witnesses to a collegian's murder." (Believe it or not, the "collegian" in question went to NYU, not Hudson! Perhaps Hudson U. had not yet entered the L&O universe?) That didn't tell us much, but we decided to go with it for one important reason: Curtis and Serena Southerlyn did not overlap. Nothing ruins an episode faster than the unanticipated appearance of Elisabeth Rohm! As it turned out, I had seen this episode before, but I didn't remember what happened, so we stuck with it. And I'm so glad, because I haven't laughed so hard since the infamous "Is this because I'm a lesbian?" incident of 2005.

You see, this episode, "Rebels," was Benjamin Bratt's second, which means it originally aired in 1995, right around the time ordinary folks first started hearing about this mysterious "internet." Lennie Briscoe was suspicious of "computers" and "electronic mail" and all that kid stuff, and apparently the writers didn't know much more than Lennie about the whole thing. The "collegiate" victim, Tommy, was murdered in a biker bar, where he had arranged to meet someone with a motorcycle to sell. L33t hax0r Rey figured this out by going to the victim's dorm room and looking at his email. As Lennie scoffed, Rey read aloud from the screen: "Five P.M. yesterday. Meet me tonight at 10 at Stroker's, where someone, possibly me, will murder you. Axel." (Obviously I'm paraphrasing the content of the message.) All that would have been okay, but then the camera cut to a shot of the computer screen, displaying what looked like a Microsoft Word documenta few words, in a large font, against a white background. It read:

>To: Tommy Bell (
>Five P.M.


We paused the TV, and oh, how we laughed. "Look at the email address! It doesn't even have an @!" we giggled. "And at the top it just says 'E-mail,'" we howled. Every time I calmed down, I would look at where it said "Five P.M. Yesterday" and start laughing all over again.

Not understanding how the internet actually works didn't stop the writers from building the whole investigation around it! The desks in the police station didn't have their own PC's back in 1995, but Rey had a laptopand it was apparently a magical laptop, because he was able to check his email from the squad car. And when he used his magical laptop to email the suspectoh, yes, they showed the screen againhe just typed his message onto a blank white screen, and then the reply showed up on the same blank white screen, with no headers or anything.

I swear. And the funny thing was, up to the point where they showed the "email" on the kid's computer, the episode didn't feel that dated. Oh, sure, S. Epatha's hairdo wasn't the most up-to-date look she's ever sported, but otherwise everything held up okay. So how funny, and how mind-blowing, to realize that 12 years ago, no one involved with the making of this show had any idea how email worked, or what it looked like. Or felt that it mattered enough to find out.

1 comment:

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

I've dedicated a L&O quiz to you on my blog...