Double Vision: The Law & Order Franchise Farm Team
Where have you seen that Law & Order star before? Probably on a different episode of Law & Order. Lilit Marcus counts down some of the most notable returnees.
Baseball isn't the only place with a farm system. One of Law & Order's favorite ways to recruit new talent is to pull from actors they used in previous episodes, even though it massively fucks with the time-space continuum. Actors we saw as rapists and murderers may pop up a few years later as ADAs and detectives we're supposed to pretend we've never seen before -- sometimes working alongside the same characters who once arrested them or grilled them on the witness stand. Here's a non-exhaustive list featuring ten actors who most memorably represented those two separate, but equally important groups.
- Kelli Giddish
As Det. Amanda Rollins on SVU, Kelli Giddish is usually the one interviewing rape victims -- when she's not dealing with her crazy family or her shitshow relationship with Amaro, anyway. But five seasons before joining SVU as a full-time cast member, she played a rape victim in the episode "Outsider." Her character mostly interacts with Fin -- fitting, since Rollins would later be his partner. Weird how he didn't recognize her!
- Tamara Tunie
Four years before joining SVU as the hyper-competent ME Melinda Warner, Tunie appeared in a Mothership episode called "Deadbeat." Tunie shows up about halfway through the episode as the defense attorney working as co-counsel of Jerry Stiller, who phones it in as a fictional version of himself. Watching her spar with Jack in court is so much fun I started wondering what would have happened if Warner had decided to pursue law instead of medicine. Otherwise, the episode's fairly unremarkable, but Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore and multiple L&O guest star Nick Sandow appear as what Briscoe calls "a couple of mooks" to provide comic relief early in the episode.
- Michelle Hurd
Michelle Hurd, who was part of the original cast of SVU (as Det. Monique Jeffries), probably had the meatiest role of this group when she did a one-off episode of Mothership in 1997. Her character Angela, the girlfriend of a man suspected of murdering a prominent African-American community activist, recorded an incriminating call between the two of them -- hence the episode's title, "Entrapment."
- Courtney B. Vance
Although he spent of five of Criminal Intent's ten seasons as stately Bible-quoting ADA Ron Carver, Courtney B. Vance's first appearance in the Wolf-iverse was on Mothership, where he played a stockbroker who used a "black rage" defense when accused of killing his white boss, providing plenty of L&O brand Hot Button Topics Addressed Via Clunky Dialogue moments. He and his lawyer also wear a series of unfortunate ties.
- Peter Scanavino
Just a year before joining the SVU cast as my secret TV crush Det. Sonny Carisi, Scanavino -- already a Mothership veteran from the Lupo era -- appeared in an episode called "Monster's Legacy," about a high school gymnastics coach who gets symbolically stabbed in the balls. Scanavino played Johnny, a school custodian who is questioned by his alt-world future colleagues, Fin and Rollins. Scanavino's performance as a recovering abuse victim who lashes out at another perceived abusers is great, but special guest stars Mike Tyson and Andre Braugher get the meatier storyline. Come to think of it, Carisi would have really loved working on that case!
- Annie Parisse
Somebody in the Wolf-iverse really had it out for Annie Parisse. In 2002's Mothership episode "Attorney Client," she played Jasmine, a grifter stripper (stripfer?) sleeping with the titular attorney. Three years later, Parisse popped back up as ADA Alexandra Borgia and was let go after just one season, at which point her character was found dead in the trunk of a car. Adding insult to injury, rumors abounded that Parisse had been fired for not being hot enough, which makes me wonder why she got cast a stripper in the first place.
- Diane Neal
In the Season 3 SVU episode "Ridicule," Diane Neal -- who would later join the show full-time as ADA Casey Novak, with a softer hairstyle -- played one of a group of women accused of raping a male stripper. Neal has a pretty minor role compared to her co-defendant, but the whole episode is totally worth watching just for the Stephanie March/CCH Pounder showdown about whether men can be raped by women, complete with the phrase "tumescence exam."
- Jeremy Sisto
The Season 17 Mothership closer, "The Family Hour," marks the departure of charisma-less Detective Nina Cassady. It's also full of famous faces: Jeffrey Tambor as a bumbling, fame-hungry judge, Harry Hamlin as a smarmy former Senator, and Jeremy Sisto as Hamlin's slimy lawyer. By the Season 18 premiere a few months later, the audience got a communal memory-wipe when Sisto reappeared, this time as Cassady's replacement, Det. Cyrus Lupo. No amount of retconning will make me stop seeing him as Elton from Clueless, though.
- Michael Imperioli
Sopranos alum Michael Imperioli spaced out his L&O appearances. He played a limo driver obsessed with his client, a gorgeous young model, in a Season 6 episode called "Atonement," then surfaced again as Det. Nick Falco, a fill-in when Jesse L. Martin took a break to film the Rent movie. In a rare hat trick, Imperioli-as-Falco popped up yet again when he was suspected of a murder in Season 16. He may be a poor man's Chris Noth, but the New York accent is legit.
- Jerry Orbach
Perhaps no actor is more synonymous with the L&O franchise than Jerry Orbach, who spent thirteen years as wisecracking detective Lennie Briscoe. But before being called up to the majors, Orbach played a wisecracking lawyer defending a woman accused of murdering her estranged husband and his hot young girlfriend. (His best zinger: "It's called plea bargaining, not plea scalping.") If anyone needs me, I'll be crying over the memory of those NYC subway ads about Jerry Orbach's corneas.